Mariposa Symphony Orchestra

From Founding Music Director and Conductor Les Marsden:

“While the MSO remains on hiatus, I’ve been asked to share my thoughts on the orchestral repertoire with you by our parent organization, the Mariposa County Arts Council. 

From time to time, I’ll publish a particular piece or composer highlighted, along with links to performances available on YouTube by some of the world’s great orchestras.

Some may remember when I presented pre-concert talks in person at the Sixth Street Cinema in Mariposa, a week before our concerts – complete with examples.   This will be something like that, and I hope you’ll find these offerings interesting – and enjoyable. 

For the most part, I’ll write of music the MSO has performed in the past – and will hopefully be able to perform for you in the future, too!”


Episode 13:  Samual Barber’s Adagio: Moving –
and ironically, JFK’s favorite piece of music

July 22, 2020

Episode 12: America, Copland, Lincoln –
and the Shame of Paranoia

July 15, 2020

Episode 11: A Spring during this Summer by
the dean of American Composers
July 8, 2020

Episode 10: Dvořák’s love of the New World
and the feeling that became mutual

July 1, 2020

Episode 9: Today’s Lunch: A Nice Bowl
of Dalmatian Suppe…

June 24, 2020

Episode 8: A much-needed, brief respite from
this deadly-serious time in our world

June 17, 2020

Episode 7: Back to the Sea with Rimsky-Korsakov
– and his magnificent teller-of-tales

June 10, 2020

Episode 6: The Golden Age of Hollywood – and its most
magnificent film score?
June 3, 2020

Episode 5: “NOBODY Crosses Beethoven”
May 27, 2020

Episode 4: “Who WAS that Masked Man!?”
May 20, 2020

Episode 3: “One Laughs While the Other Cries…
May 13, 2020

Episode 2: That’s quite a mystery, Elgar! 
May 4, 2020

Episode 1: Happy Birthday, Will Shakespeare!
April 23, 2020


Due to social distance protocols, the Mariposa Symphony Orchestra’s April 2020 concert was postponed to a later date.

Read the full program from the postponed April 2020 concert here.


The Mariposa Symphony Orchestra performing at Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park for Our Nation’s Nature Tour Finale. August 21, 2016. Photograph by Al Golub – courtesy of the National Park Service.

Meet the Mariposa Symphony Orchestra

Mariposa has the distinction of being the smallest town in the United States with its own symphony orchestra. The MSO performs multiple concerts each year and is the only symphony orchestra allowed to perform in Yosemite National Park, which it does regularly.

In 2002, Mariposa County Arts Council Board Director Les Marsden proposed creating a modest Mariposa chamber music ensemble. The idea was considered outlandish in this rural, sparsely populated region, but ten players became 19 by the first rehearsal in September of 2002 before growing to 31 musicians by the December 21, 2002 premiere concert. The newly-named Mariposa Symphony Orchestra’s very first piece of music performed founder/conductor Marsden’s ‘Mariposa Festival Overture’ composed for and dedicated to the MSO’s founding musicians. In the ensuing years, the orchestra has grown to 60 musicians and boasts an impressive history of performances in three counties, as well as an annual performance in Yosemite National Park, the only symphony orchestra afforded that opportunity in the park’s history. Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Pachelbel, Bizet, Bach, Schubert, Saint-Saens, Barber, Hanson, Mussorgsky, Copland, Tchaikovsky, Vivaldi, Schumann, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Strauss, Joplin, Dvořák and many more great composers are now heard live, regularly, symphonically in these mountains. MSO audiences have enjoyed guest soloists including cellist Ira Lehn, violinist Ann Miller, pianist Patrice Stribling Donald, classical saxophonist Dr. Lawrence Gwozdz of the University of Southern Mississippi, trombone virtuoso Dr. Tom Ashworth of U-Minn, Dr. Lewis Wong of New York and even Tim Johnson and the Sierra Cowboy Riders.

Young MSO musicians – photographed by Mike Mclane

In 2005 the annual MSO Young Composers Celebration began with performances of 8-18 year-old students’ compositions (orchestrated by Marsden) as well as the introduction of Marsden’s Welcome to Classical Music programs in every school campus in Mariposa County.

The MSO is a member of the League of American Symphony Orchestras and an ASCAP and BMI signatory. The orchestra is an partner in the four American Anniversary celebrations from 2014-16 relevant to Yosemite National Park, with the premieres of “American Anniversaries,” a new large-scale dedicated symphonic cycle composed by Les Marsden rolling out from 2013-16.


Don’t want to miss a performance? Click here to join the Friends of the MSO e-newsletter for advance concert dates and notes from Founder and Conductor, Les Marsden


Press: 
The Valley Musician – April 2019


About Les Marsden, Founder and Conductor of the Mariposa Symphony Orchestra

A thoroughly annoying, musically precocious child, Marsden began piano lessons at age 4 and was credentialed to teach piano by age 11. He added trumpet in elementary school and as a pre-teen/teen performed in recitals and with chamber ensembles as pianist/harpsichordist, becoming proficient on other brass, strings and woodwinds, as well as the concert grand harp. He composed his first symphony at 13; as a teen was principal trumpet of ensembles including the California Honor Orchestra and the Fresno Junior Philharmonic for many years. His composing and conducting interests were nurtured by (the late) Maestro Guy Taylor, conductor of the Fresno Philharmonic Orchestra. Under Taylor’s tutelage, Marsden conducted the FJP in performances of his own works. As a teen he acted in local theatre; upon entering college (CSU Fresno) Marsden settled on a theatre career. While a college student he wrote, produced and starred in his one-man show “A Night at Harpo’s” with the cooperation of Harpo Marx’s widow Susan and children. The show was professionally booked directly from college and served as the young man’s entrée into show business. Well acquainted with the elderly Groucho Marx, he performed as that Marx Brother for years in various theatrical presentations. Groucho’s son Arthur Marx wrote the play Groucho: A Life in Revue and in it created the DUAL role of Harpo and Chico Marx specifically for Marsden who in addition to playing both brothers in and out of their well-known film personae also stunned audiences by actually playing lengthy piano and harp solos in each brother’s distinctive style. Highly successful in New York, the show then played London’s West End to great acclaim; Marsden was nominated in the U.K. for London’s prestigious Laurence Olivier Award for “Comedy Performance of the Year”—the equivalent of Broadway’s Tony Award. He also received the London Critics Award and many others for his work on the London stage. The Marx Brothers were carefully maintained only a sideline to his mainstream theatrical career, however: Marsden was seen nationally and internationally in innumerable dramas, comedies and musicals from Shakespeare to Neil Simon, Chekhov to Cole Porter, with countless appearances on film, TV and in commercials. He worked with greats such as Robert Redford, the late Charles Nelson Reilly (one of this country’s finest stage directors,) Albert Finney, Vanessa Redgrave, Burt Reynolds and Jeremy Irons to name only a few. While starring in a play at the famed Arena Stage in Washington, DC in 1999, Marsden had an onstage accident which resulted in a career-ending permanent injury to his left leg. Disabled, he retired at age 42; with no further need to maintain an East Coast professional base, Marsden, wife Diane and young son Maxfield moved back to their native California to live near their beloved Yosemite National Park. In addition to the MSO and affiliated MCACI programs, he offered his ‘Acting in Mariposa’ (AIM) program; as Master Acting Teacher, his (rare) adult acting classes in Mariposa fill beyond capacity. He was honored to receive the “Golden Apple Award” from the Madera-Mariposa Charter of the Association of California School Administrators for his work as a volunteer arts presenter in all Mariposa County schools. A member of The Conductors Guild, aspects of his former theatrical career may be found at: http://tinyurl.com/ygpj7og

(Photo credit: Brent Gilstrap.)


Mini-Documentary

Click here for notes from Our Nation’s Nature  

Read notes from previous concerts on the Mariposa Symphony Orchestra Archive

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