The music world is buzzing about the upcoming “Classically Cannabis” concert, the Colorado Symphony Orchestra’s publicized and polarizing fund-raiser at which “attendees may use marijuana … as is their right under Colorado law.” For staunch Chicagoans, the Colorado program marks that CSO as something of this CSO’s “other Jeffrey Lebowski” wilder alter ego.
“Yeah? Well, you know, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.”
Still, every composer, conductor and soloist seems to have an opinion on repertoire that Colorado’s “High Note Series” might offer. The New York Times has New York Philharmonic music director Alan Gilbert pushing Hector Berlioz’s 1830 opium-tinged Symphonie fantastique, while composer John Adams favors Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Helicopter String Quartet, the boundary-smashing 1993 opus getting its second CSO Sounds & Stories shout-out this season.
Chicago has its own substance issues, Symphony Center patrons know, with concert usage openly permitted and perhaps actively encouraged — as long as that substance is menthol at 7.5 milligrams a dose. The icy-cool suppressant and anesthetic, in the form of cough drops, is free to concertgoers at bins throughout Orchestra Hall.
Colorado warns its audience that “those who choose to use cannabis assume any and all risk associated with such use” but Chicago offers no similar menthol cautions, despite the recommended dosage of one drop per two hours. Every patron who’s ever nabbed a handful is courting cough-drop danger.
Is our own CSO playing to menthol-y impaired audiences?
“Well, dude, we just don’t know.”
Taking Colorado’s cannabis lead, perhaps there’s a creative haze where music and menthol comfortably mingle. So, if you choose to use at Orchestra Hall — as is your right under Illinois law — here’s a suggested repertoire for your cool menthol chilaxin’.
Turn on. Tune in. Drop out.
1. Gustav Mahler, Symphony No. 9 (1910)
The sounds that triggered menthol madness earlier this season, as an expectant CSO audience turned expectorant in November. Following the first movement, guest conductor Michael Tilson Thomas broke for the wings and returned with dozens of cough drops that he gleefully tossed to the main floor — “Use them!” This was Mike’s happening, and it freaked us out!
2. Dmitri Shostakovich, Symphony No. 7 (Leningrad) (1941)
There’s icy cool, then there’s freezing cold. Shostakovich wrote most of the symphony in its namesake Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), his besieged Russian home, at the height of World War II. Guest conductor Jaap van Zweden leads CSO performances beginning Thursday.
3. Anything by Sergei Prokofiev
Prokofiev’s the poet laureate of Russian chill. Van Zweden and the CSO chase Shostakovich with two programs from the composer’s frosty compatriot — May 29-30, then May 31 and June 3. Music director Riccardo Muti tackles the epic “Battle on the Ice” when the CSO traverses film music from Alexander Nevsky (1938; cantata 1939) — when else? — the middle of January.
Prokofiev was no stranger to Chicago’s blustery winters, visiting several times, including the December 1921 world premiere of his opera The Love for Three Oranges.
Mix Three Oranges with a mouthful of menthol. Tell me how it tastes.
4. Piotr Tchaikovsky, Symphony No. 1 (Winter Daydreams) (1866)
Russian star Tchaikovsky gets some ice time when Muti and the CSO delve into his Winter Daydreams, also next January.
5. Anything by Ennio Morricone
Our Neapolitan maestro’s favorite film composer is Roman maestro Ennio Morricone, whom Muti welcomed to Orchestra Hall in February. Try Morricone’s score from “A Fistful of Dollars” with a fistful of cough drops.
6. Mason Bates, Alternative Energy (2011)
Muti has an ear for new talent, too, including Mason Bates, CSO co-composer-in-residence. Bates’ Alternative Energy, the new CSO Resound release, pays a musical visit to “Reykjavik, 2222,” where, the composer writes, “as the smoke clears, we find ourselves even further into the future: an Icelandic rainforest” — sounds good for puffing away in Colorado or getting your licks in here.
7. Alexander Scriabin, The Poem of Ecstasy (1908)
Conductor Alan Gilbert and pianist Jeremy Denk like the chromatic Poem of Ecstasy for cannabis in Colorado. Will it work with cough drops in Chicago? Find out when Muti and the CSO revisit Scriabin’s mystical masterpiece next June.
8. Vincent d’Indy, Symphony on a French Mountain Air (1886)
For the title alone, which evokes a sack of Ricola. Guest conductor Charles Dutoit hosts pianist Louis Lortie for CSO performances next March.
9. Franz Schubert, Symphony No. 5 (1816) and Gustav Mahler, Symphony No. 1 (1888)
These works have nothing to do with menthol. But this season’s final concert June 21, with Maestro Muti conducting, is your last chance to stock up on free cough drops before Symphony Center shuts for summer.
10. Frozen: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (2013)
Admit it — we’re all secretly chillin’ to “Let It Go.”
Andrew Huckman is a Chicago-based writer and lawyer.