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Do classical music and marijuana mix?

As Colorado enters the fifth month of its historic experiment with sales of legalized recreational marijuana for adults, a lot of the state's other businesses are looking for ways they can hitch their economic wagons to the cannabis industry's rapidly-growing finances.

The Colorado Symphony Orchestra recently made headlines when it announced it was launching a series of cannabis-oriented performances, sponsored by some local marijuana-related businesses.

"Classically Cannabis: The High Note Series" is described the by the CSO as a "BYOC (Bring Your Own Cannabis)-friendly experience for music lovers."

The first three summertime events will take place at a local art gallery in Denver, with catered food and performances by CSO ensembles. The series will end with a concert at the metro Denver's famed Red Rocks outdoor amphitheater -- and the CSO website has a lengthy disclaimer, advising concert-goers about, among other restrictions, Colorado's prohibition on outdoor consumption of cannabis, as well as driving while under the influence of marijuana.

The CSO, like other symphonies and orchestras around the country, has struggled in recent years with shrinking audiences and diminishing revenues. In 2011, The Denver Post reported the organization had an accumulated debt of $1.2 million, and was in danger of going out of business.

Also around that time, "management and the trustees got into a battle with the musicians that almost buried the place," said Jerome Kern, the CSO's CEO and co-chair. "Most of the trustees resigned and walked away from the orchestra, so it's been a rebuilding period."

And as part of that rebuilding the Colorado Symphony has come up with some innovative sponsorship measures -- including partnering with sports teams and corporations headquartered in the state. It's also linked up with several Colorado beer companies for the CSO's "Beethoven & Brews" events, which allow the audience to listen to some Ludwig van, while sampling local craft beers and hors d'oeuvres. The Beethoven & Brews series is reportedly on target to generate around $50,000 for the CSO during the 2014-15 season.

Kern says events like these are attracting a younger and more diverse audience, which will help to strengthen the CSO's future economic base, "as opposed to half-a-dozen wealthy (patrons) being asked for financial support."

And within the nation's classical music community, the CSO's melding of marijuana and music is being watched closely.

"The Colorado Symphony has taken an original approach in a state where (cannabis) is legal," said League of American Orchestras president and CEO Jesse Rosen. "It's an example of an orchestra aligning itself with unique local circumstances to attract new sponsorships, audiences, and donors. The concert experience has changed significantly over time, and this represents an unusual step in its continuing evolution."

Kern says they won't know until after the "Classically Cannabis" series concludes whether it's a financial success.

"But we certainly see where we need to go and how we need to grow the organization.," he added. "This isn't about raising the price of our stock. This is about generating enough surplus that we can fund additional creative activities -- and so that we can pay our musicians more than we currently pay."

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