Mariposa Symphony Orchestra


The Mariposa Symphony Orchestra performing at Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park for their Our Nation's Nature Tour Finale. Photograph by Al Golub - courtesy of the National Park Service.

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.


Saturday, April 6 at 7PM
Fiester Auditorium
Mariposa, California


Sunday, April 7 at 2pm 
The Ahwahnee Hotel 
Yosemite Valley, California

A little advance information from MSO Founder/Conductor Les Marsden: Mark your calendars now for a very special pair of all-Tchaikovsky Spring 2019 concerts by the Mariposa Symphony Orchestra.

Those concerts are now scheduled:  Saturday, April 6 at 7:00 PM in the Fiester Auditorium at Mariposa County High School with a repeat of that concert as a 2:00 matinee on Sunday, April 7 in the Great Lounge of the Majestic Yosemite Hotel (better known as the historic 1927 landmark Ahwahnee Hotel) in Yosemite Valley.   That Yosemite concert, incidentally: marks our first decade of offering concerts in Yosemite National Park, the only orchestra in the park’s century+ history allowed to do so.  But then again, we ARE “The Symphony Orchestra of the Yosemite Region.” The repertoire for those all-Tchaikovsky concerts will feature the magnificent violinist Ann Miller as soloist in (what I feel is) the greatest Violin Concerto ever written.  And I think it’s safe to say nearly everyone on the planet knows the composer’s Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture—containing THAT melody that’s come to define “love.” We’ve performed that famous piece in the past, and so this time around, I wanted to do something special.  And so I’ve created a new critical edition of his FIRST (1869) version of that piece.  Sure, that love theme is there, but there are fascinating differences—and it’s a rare opportunity to see how a composer re-envisions a piece: from its 1869 first version, 1870 second one to the final version that’s known far and wide — from 1880.  We’ll see how it all began.

There’ll be even more Tchaikovsky on that program, too – more rare music from that great master that isn’t played as often as it SHOULD be – but WILL be, live – by your Mariposa Symphony Orchestra on April 6 and 7, 2019.   Send an e-mail to and ask to be placed on our “Friends of the MSO” e-list so you’ll the among the first to receive updated information and new details before they’re released to the general public.


Take a look at the Mariposa Symphony Orchestra’s mini-documentary!

For the full story behind “Our Nation’s Nature” and for program notes, please click here.

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About the Mariposa Symphony Orchestra

mso1In 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 mso2composers 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. 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.

mso3The 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.

Mariposa celebrates a proud distinction: it’s considered the smallest town in all America with its own symphony orchestra: the Mariposa Symphony Orchestra.
(All photo credits: Brent Gilstrap.)

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

lmA 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:

(All photography credits: Brent Gilstrap.)

 Mariposa Symphony Orchestra Archive