Mariposa Symphony Orchestra

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.

Note: The Mariposa Symphony Orchestra is on hiatus indefinitely.

Listening with Les

While the MSO remains on hiatus, Founding Music Director and Conductor, Les Marsden will continue bringing music to Mariposa County through a virtual essay series title Listening with Les. Each week, Les provides his thoughts on the orchestral repertoire with particular pieces or composer highlighted, along with links to performances available on YouTube by some of the world’s great orchestras


Episode 99:  Elgar Marches Along
March 9, 2022

Episode 98:  March. In Like A Lion
March 2, 2022

Episode 97:  Another of Beethoven’s heroes
February 23, 2022

Episode 96:  Now HERE’S another piece…
February 16, 2022

Episode 95:  Rimsky-Korsakov’s brief concerto
February 9, 2022

Episode 94:  A(nother) brief, exhilarating  piece from our very first season
February 2, 2022

Episode 93:  The sensual side of Saint-Saëns
January 26, 2022

Episode 93:  Antonín Dvořák’s greatest symphony?
January 19, 2022

Episode 92:  Antonín Dvořák’s greatest symphony?
January 19, 2022

Episode 91:  The SECOND look at one of the great incidental scores
January 12, 2022

Episode 90:  The first look at one of the great incidental scores
January 5, 2022

Episode 89:  Last one of the year, which gives us many reasons to be happy!
December 29, 2021

Episode 88: One of the great pleasures of the season
December 22, 2021

Episode 87: Happy Birthday, Ludwig!  A Special Encore Presentation
December 15, 2021

Episode 86: Beethoven’s return to normalcy?
December 8, 2021

Episode 85: Back to that 1808 monster concert…
December 1, 2021

Episode 84: Happy Thanksgiving – from Beethoven!
November 24, 2021

Episode 83: Remember that prolific “Father of the Symphony”?
November 17, 2021

Episode 82: Part 2: Oh Carmen, my Carmen…
November 10, 2021

Episode 81: Part 1: Oh Carmen, my Carmen…
November 3, 2021

Episode 80: A Second Offering of a Little Scary Music
October 27, 2021

Episode 79: A Little Scary Music
October 20, 2021

Episode 78: Oh, this one is just FUN 
October 13, 2021

Episode 77: Back to Beethoven
October 6, 2021

Episode 76: The forth installment of “Listening TO Les”
Sept. 22, 2021

Episode 75: The third installment of “Listening TO Les”
Sept. 22, 2021

Episode 74: The second installment of “Listening TO Les”
Sept. 15, 2021

Episode 73: Well actually, this episode is “Listening TO Les”
Sept. 8, 2021

Episode 72: Tchaikovsky’s Charming Second Symphony
Sept. 1, 2021

Episode 71: A wonderful guilty pleasure, performed by the MSO
August 25, 2021

Episode 70: Massenet – How Suite It Is…
August 18, 2021

Episode 69: Bach. Master of sublime beauty and form.
August 11, 2021

Episode 68: The Father of the Symphony..
Aug 4, 2021

Episode 67: If having ONE concerto soloist is wonderful
July 28, 2021

Episode 66: a piece of music which helped free a nation.
July 21, 2021

Episode 65: Yes, it’s hot outside!
July 14, 2021

Episode 64: Short. REALLY short – but packed with ENERGY!
July 7, 2021

Episode 63: Kick Up Your Heels, Cowboys
June 30, 2021

Episode 62: Mozart’s little trip to hell
June 23, 2021

Episode 61: June Brides? This one’s for you!
June 16, 2021

Episode 60: One of the great composers
June 9, 2021

Episode 59: Need a little beauty right now?
June 2, 2021

Episode 58: The Best of All Possible Worlds
May 26, 2021

Episode 57: The conclusion of this two-parter!
May 19, 2021

Episode 56: A two-parter!
May 12, 2021

Episode 55: A Bumbling Film icon
May 5, 2021

Episode 54: Mozart’s titan of proportions?
April 28, 2021

Episode 53: Who knew love could be so charming!?
April 21, 2021

Episode 52: a milestone of sorts.
April 14, 2021

Episode 51: now HERE’S a name you may not have heard before…
April 7, 2021

Episode 50: ANOTHER one-trick pony?!
Mar. 31, 2021

Episode 49: Welcome Spring! And Summer…
Mar. 24, 2021

Episode 48: Happy St. Patrick’s Day
Mar. 17, 2021

Episode 47: Simply: fun!
Mar. 10, 2021

Episode 46: Was THIS the piece that hooked YOU on “classical” music?
Mar. 3, 2021

Episode 45: Short, gorgeous – and very well-known.
Feb. 24, 2021

Episode 44: the greatest film composer who ever lived…
Feb. 17, 2021

Episode 43: Dvorak’s own favorite of his symphonies.
Feb. 10, 2021

Episode 42: Schubert’s “Unfinished” Symphony COMPLETED?
Feb. 3, 2021

Episode 41: Winter Dreams
Jan 27, 2021

Episode 40: Bouyant optimism – it’s time we had some!
Jan. 20, 2021

Episode 39: After this week, we need a reminder of elegance and gentility.
Jan. 13, 2021

Episode 38: Let’s get this new year off to a bang
Jan. 6, 2021

Episode 37: Farewell 2020. Or – good riddance?
Dec. 30, 2020

Episode 36: Back to the Holidays…
Dec. 23, 2020

Episode 35: Special Edition: Today marks a true landmark in music.
Dec. 16-17, 2020

Episode 34: The King of Christmas Music?
Dec. 16, 2020

Episode 33: the true beauty of “Greensleeves”
Dec. 9, 2020

Episode 32: the Seasonal Cheer Continues
Dec. 2, 2020

Episode 31: the Seasonal Cheer Continues
Nov. 25, 2020

Episode 30: Let the Seasonal Cheer Begin.
Nov. 18, 2020

Episode 29: Honor, Salute – and Thank
Nov. 11, 2020

Episode 28: The Czech Mozart
Nov. 4, 2020

Episode 27: A Night on WHICH Bald Mountain?
Oct. 28, 2020

Episode 26: Mad Scientists and the organ – with a little orchestral assist
Oct. 21, 2020

Episode 25: Allow Dvorak to Set the Halloween Mood
Oct. 14, 2020

Episode 24: The Classical….SAXOPHONE?
Oct. 7, 2020

Episode 23: One of my not-so-guilty pleasures
Sept. 30, 2020

Episode 22: Doing the Right Thing. Heroism.
Sept. 23, 2020

Episode 21: Something different – Learning ABOUT Les…
Sept. 16, 2020

Episode 20: As We in the Yosemite Region Endure THIS
Sept. 9, 2020

Episode 19: Never Heard Sibelius’ Third?
Sept. 2, 2020

Episode 18: Proof That Critics Can Be Idiots
Aug. 26, 2020

Episode 17: Vasily Kalinnikov: Lesser-known,
but pleasurably memorable

Aug. 19, 2020

Episode 16: Last week: Rossini’s Barber.
This Week: Mozart Marries OFF that Barber
Aug. 12, 2020

Episode 15: Flat-out fun at a time at a time when
we could ALL use a little. Or a LOT.

Aug. 5, 2020

Episode 14: Victor Herbert and Dudley Buck:
A Double Header to Close Out My July
All-American Survey of Composers

July 29, 2020

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

Happy Independence Day: A Full MSO Concert
July 4, 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

Meet the Mariposa Symphony Orchestra

Young MSO musicians – photographed by Mike Mclane

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.

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.

Make a donation to the MSO

Stay up-to-date:  Email Les Marsden at to join the Friends of the MSO e-newsletter.


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:

(Photo credit: Brent Gilstrap.)


Click here for notes from Our Nation’s Nature  

Read notes from previous concerts on the Mariposa Symphony Orchestra Archive