College of Music

University of Colorado Boulder

Michael Thornton and the Colorado Symphony Orchestra

August 27, 2012

As the Colorado Symphony Orchestra moves forward with a new consumer-focused business model, Associate Professor Michael Thornton feels a sense of ownership for the culture change the CSO is undergoing, since he had a hand in the orchestra’s fresh direction.

The past three years have been challenging for the financially strapped symphony. A disparate philosophy and vision between the former management and the musicians on how to reduce operating costs added to the turmoil.

“That clash,” said Thornton, principal horn with the CSO since 1997, “led to a low point for the organization last fall when we had to reduce our concert schedule and figure out how we could move forward to preserve the organization we all loved.”

Thornton served on a committee of musicians that considered how to effectively use personnel, including ways the symphony could supplement its 80-piece orchestra series with smaller chamber concerts held in a variety of community settings.

A new business plan was rolled out last year that still features traditional classical music concerts, but adds ensembles, solo recitals, and creative collaborations with other organizations, as well as offering a wider variety of music.

One of Thornton’s suggestions was for all the musicians to commit to performing outside the concert hall, in both for-profit performances and through community service opportunities. These projects can include a string quartet performing for nursing homes or a brass quintet playing at the Children’s Hospital in Aurora.

The committee realized that the way the orchestra had operated in the past was no longer viable and that by increasing its availability in communities outside the Denver metro area and being more accessible to a wider range of audiences, the orchestra’s constituency would be increased.

“Presenting major orchestral repertory works is critical and central to the mission of the Colorado symphony,” said Thornton. “But the opportunity to put the orchestra in more venues and do things that are new and exciting will help us reach a broader audience.”

The type of musical offerings provided by the CSO has changed as well. By taking risks with new musical collaborations and interactive concerts, the CSO is attracting a more diverse and younger audience, which enhances the symphony’s relevance to music lovers throughout Colorado. The Colorado Symphony performed with Trey Anastasio, front man and songwriter for Phish, in a concert that bridged the gap between innovative rock and classical music. Denver’s iconic, indie gypsy rock band DeVotchKa and the CSO also performed a lineup of the band’s new and classic releases.

“There’s been a lot of turmoil in the classical music industry as a whole over the past several years,” said Thornton, “but the Colorado Symphony is coming up with creative approaches for the future. It makes me feel hopeful and optimistic about the new opportunities that will exist for my students. This is an exciting time to be an emerging musician.”

Michael Thornton is associate professor of horn and has been a member of the faculty at the College of Music since 1999. October 5–7 he will be performing the Second Horn Concerto by Richard Strauss with the Colorado Symphony. Tickets can be purchased online at