Scott O'Neil, resident conductor of the Colorado Symphony.

(Photo: J. Mimna)

The Colorado Symphony’s “Classically Cannabis” concerts made international headlines earlier this year when the orchestra partnered with marijuana-related sponsors. The invitation-only events featured small-ensemble performances where audiences could consume marijuana on a private patio.

This Saturday, the full orchestra heads to Red Rocks Amphitheatre for another performance sponsored by marijuana-related companies. This time the audience will be thousands, rather than hundreds, of fans.

Symphony officials stress that smoking marijuana at public venues like Red Rocks is illegal. The Colorado Symphony's resident conductor, Scott O’Neil, said the sponsor partnership is simply a chance for the orchestra to share great music with a new audience.

(Photo: David Amirault)

“We have a lot of people who sponsor concerts,” he told Colorado Matters’ Ryan Warner. “And, at least to those of us onstage, we’re performing another concert of music that we hope people enjoy that happens to have a given sponsor. And this one (sponsor) is another legitimate business in Colorado and it’s something that responsible people do legally.”

O’Neil described the "Red Rocks on a High Note" concert as part of the symphony’s ongoing push to reach new audiences, similar to the orchestra's “geek” concert series targeting fans of Tim Burton films and comic books.

“I hear over and over again that the American symphony orchestra needs to change if it wants to survive -- and this orchestra is on strike, and this orchestra is shut out, and this orchestra died,” O’Neil said. “If we’re going to survive it’s going to be in a commercial manner. …. Our challenge is maintaining our artistic integrity while we invite new audiences, while we find new ways to raise money, while we find new ways to sell tickets. And that might be allying yourself with a legitimate business in Colorado, like the cannabis growers’ association, or people who play video games.”

While Saturday’s concert includes passages from Hector Berlioz’s “Symphonie Fantastique” -- which depicts the visions of someone who has taken too much opium -- most of the music is simply meant to be vivid and evocative, O'Neil said.

The program features Claude Debussy’s “Clair de Lune,” the first movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, and John Adams’ “Short Ride in a Fast Machine,” inspired by a hair-raising jaunt in a sportscar.

“This is just a chance for us to perform some very imaginative music that has a lot of creative images,” O’Neil said.

O’Neil also highlighted other non-traditional moves by the symphony, including the recent announcement that male musicians will stop wearing tuxedos in favor of more chic concert attire. O’Neil said he won’t miss the tuxedos.

“After concerts, I would go someplace to get a drink or get something to eat, and I would get mistaken for the wait staff," he said. "So if that’s the association, then let’s go with something a little more modern.”