How the SPCO’s grand shuffle came to be — and how its leaders see the future

Courtesy of the Cleveland Orchestra
Jon Limbacher: “…I love the Twin Cities. We spent 11½ years there. They feel like home. And I love the SPCO. It’s been a really important part of my career. So it’s a dream come true to be able to come back in a leadership role.”

Beginning January 2016, Bruce Coppock will have more time for his cello, Kyu-Young Kim will have more responsibilities, Jon Limbacher will be back in the Twin Cities and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra will have a more traditional structure, but in a uniquely SPCO kind of way.

In a major change in leadership announced yesterday, SPCO President Coppock will step down and two people will step up to take his place. Limbacher, who has worked with Coppock for much of his career to date, will be president and managing director, and Kim will be the orchestra’s first-ever artistic director.

No major American orchestra has ever appointed an orchestra member as artistic director.

In his new role, Kim will shape and develop the SPCO’s artistic vision, work with the orchestra’s Artistic Vision Committee (AVC) to program the artistic content of everything the SPCO does, and seek out new artistic partners, guest artists and orchestra members, among other duties. He will report to the orchestra’s board of directors.

It’s all part of a grand shuffle that began in 2013, when Bruce Coppock returned to head the SPCO, which had been bruised and battered by a six-month lockout of the musicians by management during a contractual dispute, and almost immediately started planning his exit strategy.

“When I came back in 2013,” Coppock said, “I had a list of things I was going to work on. I wanted to get the artistic direction of the organization straightened out, and I knew that involved engaging the musicians more deeply in the leadership of the orchestra.

“The whole artistic leadership thing – the direction of the orchestra, the involvement of the musicians, the artistic partners, of which we’ve named four in the last two years – all that was really important.

“Then there was opening the new Concert Hall and getting a good leg up on adding musicians. Those appointments – [violinist Hyobi] Sim, [cellist Julie] Albers, [bassist Zachary] Cohen and [oboeist Barbara] Bishop – were all spectacular. And there are more on the way. So that feels very well in hand.

“And then getting the international touring re-established. That’s done. Check. And getting a labor agreement done.

“The last thing I had on my list was succession planning. I knew that figuring out a succession plan for a completely unique and distinctive organization was the highest and most important job. Because whatever I accomplished here has to be built on. We wanted some combination of artistic awareness, institutional awareness, strategic skills, raw intelligence and commitment to the community. And we were able to put together this absolutely dream team of Kyu and Jon.”

Courtesy of the SPCO
Bruce Coppock

Coppock calls the transition to Limbacher and Kim “a natural evolution.” Limbacher worked with Coppock for many years: first at the St. Louis Symphony, then at the SPCO from 2000-12 as vice president and chief operating officer, and then at the Cleveland Orchestra. At the SPCO, Limbacher was the mind behind many of the orchestra’s innovative and sometimes controversial audience-building strategies: the $5 per month membership model, more performances in Twin Cities neighborhoods, and ticket prices among the lowest in the U.S. for major orchestras. In 2006-07, when Coppock was ill, Limbacher functioned as CEO.

Principal second violinist Kim has spent the past two years as senior director of artistic planning, doing both musician and management duties, gaining unprecedented insight into what it’s like to view an orchestra from two different and sometimes warring sides. He considers the transition “organic.”

Kim’s bump to artistic director doesn’t mean he’ll stop performing. “Playing on stage with the SPCO is a huge part of it for me,” he said. “I’ve been a performing musician my whole life. It’s my first passion.” Nor does it mean he’ll start conducting. That’s the main difference between an artistic director, which few orchestras have, and a music director, which almost all orchestras have. A music director is also a conductor. “Obviously, I don’t conduct at all,” Kim said. “I’m probably forbidden from conducting, which is fine with me.”

Along with years of orchestra management experience and intimate knowledge of the SPCO, Limbacher brings formidable fundraising and audience-building skills. Most recently, he led the Cleveland Orchestra’s development team in its Sound for the Centennial Campaign, raising $60 million in endowment funds while increasing the annual fund by $1.5 million.

“Cleveland has had stunning fundraising led by Jon,” Coppock said. “They also had a stunning increase in young people in audiences, and neighborhood residencies around the city. Where did he steal those ideas from? He stole them from St. Paul! So it’s all circular.”

Courtesy of the SPCO
Principal second violinist Kim has spent the past two years as senior director of artistic planning, doing both musician and management duties, gaining unprecedented insight into what it’s like to view an orchestra from two different and sometimes warring sides.

In December, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported, “Like a Bruckner symphony or Wagner opera, the good news from the Cleveland Orchestra’s latest annual report just goes on and on.” It’s hard to believe someone from Cleveland won’t tackle Limbacher on the way out.

What lured him back? “First, I love the Twin Cities,” he said. “We spent 11½ years there. They feel like home. And I love the SPCO. It’s been a really important part of my career. So it’s a dream come true to be able to come back in a leadership role.”

The fact that Coppock asked him didn’t hurt. “I hope this story is as much about Bruce as anything,” Limbacher said. “He’s been my mentor and friend for a long time. I owe a lot to him. He’s a great leader, and he taught me so much about leadership. He taught me that you really can’t be an effective leader unless you have vision, unless you’re resilient, and unless it is about the organization and it’s not about you.”

Limbacher said it was too soon to talk about specific plans or ideas, but he knows he will focus on three areas. “One is to work with Kyu to ensure that the orchestra keeps getting better, because artistic excellence – you never get to the end of that. Second, I’ll be working with Kyu, the staff and the board to figure out how to add more value to the community. Third is building sustainability.”

We asked Coppock, Kim and Limbacher where each sees the SPCO five years from now. Let’s tuck their answers into a time capsule and check it sometime in 2019-20, during the orchestra’s 60th anniversary.

Bruce Coppock: “I would love to see it be a more robust version of itself, with even greater clarity about who it is artistically. And with the community understanding with greater clarity who the SPCO is artistically. … I’d love to see a fully developed and executed international touring career. I’d love to see the orchestra make more appointments. And mostly, I’d like to see it play at an even higher level. Because that’s possible. As good as the concerts have been, they can be even better. I know that’s what the musicians want. They are really hungry.”

Kyu-Young Kim: “I see the orchestra as really thriving. I think in five years we will have come close if not already added a significant number of new members. We’ve been working really hard at that for the last two years, and we’ve added four new members. But there’s an opportunity to add another six to seven over those five years. That’s going to have a huge influence on the way the orchestra plays, the way we approach everything.” Kim also looks ahead to live-streaming concerts from the Concert Hall, bringing more diversity into the SPCO’s programming, and having member musicians who are also arrangers and composers writing original music for the SPCO.

Jon Limbacher: “I see the SPCO in five years as being at an even higher level. It’s great now, but that quest is never over. And I see it going even more into serving the community and a broader cross-section of the community.”

You can also learn about all our free newsletter options.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply