Remaking itself for a more casual era of concert-going, the Colorado Symphony Orchestra will dress down its musicians and end a long-standing policy of forbidding patrons to bring cocktails into the performance hall.
The orchestra also announced Tuesday that it is taking on the role of concert promoter, an aggressive business move that will have it producing a new lineup of non-classical events. The "CSO Presents" series will feature big and small names in popular music, including a stop of the long-awaited reunion tour between jazz masters Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea in March.
The changes start as the new season kicks off Sept 18, with Beethoven's Ninth on the program and without the male musicians in the tuxedos they have worn since the city's orchestra began playing in 1934. Instead, they will wear black suits — black jackets, ties, shirts and pants.
Female musicians will have the same all-black dress code they've long had, which allows them to choose between dresses and skirts or pants.
"It's an overdue change, honestly," said Anthony Pierce, the CSO's vice president of artistic administration. "We're always talking about how to make ourselves as accessible as possible and this is one way."
The wardrobe change should put the performers on a level closer to their customers who have been getting increasingly more casual over the past decade. These days, anything goes at Boettcher Concert Hall, from prom gowns to jeans and sneakers.
The traditionalists and the dilettantes get along fine except for the occasional shushing, though that could be tested with the rattling of ice cubes as patrons start bringing their scotch and sodas into the hall.
"We won't be handing them glasses and have them clanking around," said Pierce. "They'll have plastic cups. People will still have to be courteous and not disturb other people, but that's always the case."
Both the old-timers and the newcomers might find something to like in the new, middle-of-the-road CSO Presents series, a departure for an organization that has historically focused on putting its own classical musicians on stage, mostly on their own, though increasingly in collaboration with contemporary acts.
The series will be more like the the series put on by the Newman Center at the University of Denver, or by CU Presents in Boulder. The lineup varies from pop to rock to reggae.
The seven-concert list: Preservation Hall Jazz Band (Nov. 12), Los Lobos (Nov. 29), The Wailers (Jan. 22), The Chieftains (March 15), Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea (March 18), Zappa Plays Zappa (April 23), Turn Over the Keys (May 8).
"It's about getting people into Boettcher Concert Hall," said Pierce.
The CSO, which hopes to raise revenue from the series, will still be looking to partner with the acts that come through, Pierce said. Several of the touring groups have already requested CSO musicians play parts during their shows.
That will set CSO apart from the other presenting series in town.
"Other presenters don't have the standing army of artists with the reputation that we do," he said.
The CSO has restructured some of its staff to make its new endeavors easier. Pierce, who now oversees classical programming, will expand his role, working to develop new ventures, a job that includes everything from more collaborations with pop acts to working with unions to allow the CSO to record and distribute its own work digitally.
Backing up Pierce on the art front will be Robert Neu, a respected name in the classical business who has been working as vice president and general manager of the Minnesota Symphony Orchestra since 1995.
The changes come as the CSO faces pressures on a number of fronts. It is still recovering from a financial crisis that almost put it out of business two seasons ago. At the same time, it may be asked to leave its long-time home, Boettcher Concert Hall, so the city-owned building can undergo major renovations.
Whether that move is temporary or permanent remains up in the air. The CSO and the city have been haggling over the rent with the orchestra saying it needs a better deal to stay, At the same time, the city has been suggesting that the CSO move out of the hall — perhaps two doors down to the under used Ellie Caulkins Opera House so Boettcher can be opened up to a wider variety of programming.
Another idea on the table is tearing down Boettcher completely to make way for an outdoor theater that would make the complex more attractive to events that draw younger crowds at more affordable ticket prices.
Ray Mark Rinaldi: 303-954-1540, email@example.com or twitter.com/rayrinaldi