New boss same as old boss

This really shouldn’t have been a surprise:

After a season marred by a bitter contract dispute and a musician lockout, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra got some positive news Tuesday, May 7.The committee looking for a new president for the organization unanimously recommended the return of former SPCO president Bruce Coppock, who was president and managing director from 1999 to 2008. Coppock left the SPCO to battle a rare form of cancer he was diagnosed with in 2006

….A national leader among administrators of classical music organizations, during his tenure with the SPCO, Coppock saw wholesale changes in the way the orchestra operates, according to a Pioneer Press profile in 2008. Among the most visible changes was the SPCO’s decision, in 2003, to jettison the traditional role of music director in favor of a rotating group of “artistic partners.”

According to the SPCO, concert attendance increased to an all-time high, the annual fund increased by nearly 70 percent, the budget was balanced in all but one year (during the recession of 2003) and the endowment grew significantly during Coppock’s tenure. The SPCO currently faces a $900,000 deficit.

After Sarah Lutman, Coppock’s successor in 2008 (and, it turns out, predecessor as well) left to spend more time with her consulting career, I’m told the SPCO board made a conscious choice not to replace her until after the negotiations were over, apparently thinking that the replacement would have a better shot at success if he/she wasn’t tarred with the negative baggage engendered by what they expected to be a bad negotiation.

Coppock, however, is hardly untarred. For one thing, (and something  none of the articles mentioned) he is a member of the SPCO board. For another, at least one of the initiatives most identified with him – the reduction in ticket prices – was a specific target of the musicians in their public discussions of the ills of the organization. And it’s hard not to suspect that this appointment was in the works for a while before the settlement and before any meaningful consideration by the formal search committee that included musicians, which will probably not help much in the trust area either.

Nonetheless, it could be a very good choice. For one thing, the last thing the SPCO needs is more of the kind of “management” it’s gotten the last year; almost any change would be an improvement. For another, Coppock had a real record of achievement during his tenure in St. Paul; his departure in 2008 had nothing to do with his job performance. There’s no reason to suppose that he can’t be as effective going forwards as he was in the past. And, between being hired now, without a real search, and not needing to spend months getting up to speed, he gets a good year’s head start on fixing the SPCO compared to any other candidate.

And “other candidates” would have been in short supply. Unfortunately, the talent pool for orchestral CEOs is not very deep these days, if it ever was, and I suspect that most of the people of the caliber that the SPCO needs would not need more than a few seconds to decline an invitation to be considered for the CEO position, at least at this point in time.

So let’s hope it works out for all concerned. The SPCO has an interesting opportunity to take advantage of a certain void in the marketplace for orchestra performance in the Twin Cities, for obvious but unfortunate reasons. I can’t believe that Coppock hasn’t been thinking about how to leverage that.


About the author

Robert Levine
Robert Levine

Robert Levine has been the Principal Violist of the Milwaukee Symphony since September 1987. Before coming to Milwaukee Mr. Levine had been a member of the Orford String Quartet, Quartet-in-Residence at the University of Toronto, with whom he toured extensively throughout Canada, the United States, and South America. Prior to joining the Orford Quartet, Mr. Levine had served as Principal Violist of The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra for six years. He has also performed with the San Francisco Symphony, the London Symphony of Canada, and the Oklahoma City Symphony, as well as serving as guest principal with the orchestras of Indianapolis and Hong Kong.

He has performed as soloist with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Oklahoma City Symphony, the London Symphony of Canada, the Midsummer Mozart Festival (San Francisco), and numerous community orchestras in Northern California and Minnesota. He has also been featured on American Public Radio's nationally broadcast show "St. Paul Sunday Morning" on several occasions.

Mr. Levine has been an active chamber musician, having performed at the Festival Rolandseck in Germany, the Grand Teton Music Festival, the Palm Beach Festival, the "Strings in the Mountains" Festival in Colorado, and numerous concerts in the Twin Cities and Milwaukee. He has also been active in the field of new music, having commissioned and premiered works for viola and orchestra from Minnesota composers Janika Vandervelde and Libby Larsen.

Mr. Levine was chairman of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians from 1996 to 2002 and currently serves as President of the Milwaukee Musicians Association, Local 8 of the American Federation of Musicians, and as a member of the Board of Directors of the League of American Orchestras. He has written extensively about issues concerning orchestra musicians for publications of ICSOM, the AFM, the Symphony Orchestra Institute, and the League of American Orchestras.

Mr. Levine attended Stanford University and the Institute for Advanced Musical Studies in Switzerland. His primary teachers were Aaron Sten and Pamela Goldsmith. He also studied with Paul Doctor, Walter Trampler, Bruno Giuranna, and David Abel.

He lives with his wife Emily and his son Sam in Glendale.

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