Since its creation in 2002, the Mariposa Symphony Orchestra has defied all odds against its mere existence. In this sparsely populated, rural and rugged area, it's nearly as incongruous as a rose in the desert. But not only has it survived, it has thrived. Initially, the thought of a symphony orchestra in these environs was greeted with disbelief. But from its first concert in December of 2002, the orchestra immediately became a source of regional pride, a selling-point for real-estate agents, a cultural institution - and a pleasant surprise for cosmopolitan visitors who are delighted to find an oasis of aural beauty in our scenic paradise.
The orchestra is based in Mariposa and is a program of the Mariposa County Arts Council, Inc. While every concert is presented in Mariposa, the MSO's performances are shared widely within the region and neighboring counties, with past matinee concerts in Oakhurst, Merced and even in Yosemite National Park. Annual free concerts have been presented in the Great Lounge of the legendary landmark 1927 Ahwahnee Hotel each spring since 2009 and each has resulted in standing room only.
The MSO also encourages musical education. The orchestra's Founding Music Director and Conductor Les Marsden has visited every single school campus in all of Mariposa County each year for the past several years. His annual visits have allowed for his presentation of his two programs: "Welcome to Classical Music" and the "Young Master Composers Celebration" to delighted students, staff and parents. These presentations (which have also featured visiting guest artists from as far away as New York City) are also made available to the home-schooled.
Drawing musicians from a wide geographic area extending from Fresno to NPS and Delaware North employees in Yosemite National Park itself, to as far in the Central Valley as Merced and Turlock, the dedicated musicians and their conductor volunteer their time, service and musicianship. In so doing, they've brought masterworks of the symphonic repertoire from composers such as Beethoven, Mozart, Haydn, Schumann, Tchaikovsky, Wagner, Schubert, Rimsky-Korsakov, Borodin, Mahler, Rossini, Bizet, Grieg, Mussorgsky, Sibelius, Vaughan Williams, and many many more. The bicentennial of both Beethoven's Fifth and Sixth symphonies was marked by notable, accomplished performances of those two works. The orchestra in the past has also collaborated with the Mariposa Community Chorus.
The orchestra has also regularly premiered the works of accomplished local area composers, many of which have reflected the splendor of our Sierra Nevada home. From string orchestra works by Ken Keuning to many works by retired US Army composer/arranger Dr. Phillip Smith, the musical depiction of the Sierra Nevada has been an important part of the orchestra's repertoire.
Internationally-recognized guest solo artists have appeared with the MSO, including Patrice Stribling Nelson in Beethoven's Piano Concerto #1, Ira Lehn in Dvorak's Cello Concerto and Lehn with Ann Miller in Brahms' Double Concerto. Trombonist Dr. Thomas Ashworth and Virtuoso Violinist Lewis Wong have performed the world premiere performances of concerti for their respective instruments with the MSO; both works had been commissioned from Les Marsden, also a veteran composer for the symphony orchestra.
The MSO's annual offerings include an Independence Day Spectacular Concert (performed outdoors at the Amphitheatre in Mariposa County Park,) a festive Holiday Concert, fall Season Opening and Spring Concerts. The orchestra is also the featured closing night attraction of the Mariposa County Fair, performing an annual full-length outdoor concert every year on Labor Day which ends with a coordinated fireworks display.
The orchestra made history in April of 2009 when it performed the first concert by a symphony orchestra ever in the landmark Ahwahnee Hotel's 82-year history. The SRO concert revealed spectacular acoustics in the Great Hall of the Yosemite Valley hotel, and the concert (featuring a return performance visit by Violinist Lewis Wong) included the premiere of Marsden's orchestral fanfare "Range of Light" - a piece dedicated to Ansel Adams. That particular concert also included an exceptional performance of Antonin Dvořák's landmark 9th Symphony "From the New World" - a performance that resulted in an instantaneous and unanimous standing ovation.
The MSO is engaged in an ongoing series of commemorative events marking four major American "outdoor" anniversaries in 2014-2016, with the premieres of four large-scale symphonic poems each composed (by Marsden) and dedicated to a particular anniversary. "Wilderness - Our Necessary Refuge" celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act and "Hope in A Time of Tragedy" commemorating the 150th Anniversary of the Yosemite Grant Act have already premiered in Mariposa and Yosemite National Park to acclaim. Marsden's remaining two works in his "American Anniversaries" cycle will premiere in both locations in the spring of 2015 and 2016; those musical pieces will celebrate the (2015) 125th Anniversary of Yosemite National Park and (2016) the 100th Anniversary of the National Park Service. In that year (2016) the entire 80-minute cycle will also be premiered as an integral four-movement work.