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A Yosemite Concert With Only Stars Overhead

Les Marsden with the Mariposa Symphony Orchestra in Yosemite, August 21, 2016 at Glacier Point, NPS photos by Al Golub.

YOSEMITE — An all-American concert featuring a full symphony orchestra is a special way to celebrate America’s birthday. But to experience such a concert in Yosemite National Park in a historic location is a rare, extra-special opportunity.

The Mariposa Symphony Orchestra regularly performs in Yosemite Valley, but its first-ever outdoor Wawona concert will allow attendees to revel in a simpler time while also having a meaningful experience, due to at least one piece’s associations with time and place.

Park Service representatives, hotel staff and the orchestra’s Founder/Music Director Les Marsden have important advice for those planning to attend this free concert celebration in a rustic setting on Saturday, June 29.

The landmark hotel, historically known as the Wawona Hotel (now referred to as Big Trees Lodge), is located less than five miles inside Yosemite’s south entrance (Highway 41), and the hotel’s earliest existing structure was built in 1876, pre-dating the creation of Yosemite National Park itself.

Later structures were added as recently as 1918 and the hotel compound now stands as a model of Victorian-era preservation, allowing visitors to step back to a quieter time.

The facility is a National Historic Landmark and is also on the National Register of Historic Places. To enjoy a symphonic concert in that setting in a woodsy glade, to experience a family-oriented evening under the stars without intrusive lighting or other modern-age distractions is far different than stepping into modern concert hall.

Therefore, these important recommendations are firmly advised:

    • Parking will be available in the Wawona Lower Lot at the Wawona Store and Pioneer History Center lot, a short walk from the concert site. Please do not park in the hotel parking, which is reserved for guests of the hotel.
    • Due to the historic nature of the hotel, there is very limited lighting on the grounds. Though the concert will begin at 7 p.m. it will conclude after dark on a moonless night. All attendees are strongly urged to bring flashlights.
    • In keeping with the rustic, wooded park-like setting, concertgoers are asked to bring blankets to enjoy the concert seated on the lawn, for a memorable old-time experience. There will be only a very limited number of chairs available for the elderly or infirm.
    • It’s a good idea to bring personal insect repellent.
    • Please: no glassware on the grounds. Drink service will be available.
    • Public restrooms including ADA facilities are available nearby in the Annex and Main Buildings.

A very special amenity will be available before the free concert: the hotel will serve its famous Saturday barbecue on the lawn from 5 to 7 p.m. near the concert site. The all-inclusive price is $23 for adults and $13 for children (3-12) with the meal free for those under 3. Full information including menu may be found at TravelYosemiteBigTreesLodge.

Marsden suggests concert-goers make a day of it: the trailhead for Mariposa Grove is located just inside Yosemite’s south entrance and there’s much to do at Wawona, including a visit to the Pioneer Yosemite History Center, with historic structures relocated from many areas of the region. Wawona boasts a nine-hole golf course — a rarity inside a national park — and other Wawona attractions may be found here. 

Independence Day Spectacular concert — Saturday, June 29

To finish off that memorable Saturday, June 29 in style, the Mariposa Symphony Orchestra’s admission-free 2019 “Independence Day Spectacular!” concert will begin at 7 p.m. performed outdoors in a charming glade encircled by the Little White Cottage, the Washburn Cottage and the 1918 Annex. This concert is offered through the MSO’s partnership with the National Park Service and Yosemite Hospitality, a division of Aramark. The Mariposa Symphony Orchestra is a program of the Mariposa County Arts Council, Inc.

MSO Founder/Conductor Les Marsden has programmed an all-American concert featuring works from some of this country’s greatest composers, well-known and little-known.

In that latter category stands America’s most important early composer: Louis Moreau Gottschalk. Two of his complex piano works have been orchestrated into orchestral showpieces by Marsden: “The Union” and “Marche des Gibaros – Souvenir de Porto Rico.” Gottschalk (1829-1869) performed “The Union” in the White House at the special request of President Abraham Lincoln on March 24, 1864. Though not directly related, only three months and six days later President Lincoln signed the Yosemite Grant Act, preserving Yosemite Valley and the nearby Mariposa Grove of Big Trees for all time. Marsden is pleased to present “The Union” very near the location Lincoln protected – though he would never live to see it. Gottschalk would perform that piece on one other occasion in the President’s presence: as Lincoln lay in state following his assassination.

The MSO’s June 29th Concert will also include music from American icons: 1942’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” by Aaron Copland (1900-1990) and a piece not necessarily recognizable by name, but familiar through its effective use in the 1979 space thriller film “Alien”: the Second (“Romantic”) Symphony by Howard Hanson (1896-1981) composed in 1930. An astonishing, beautiful, haunting and ultimately thrilling work, John Williams has acknowledged that Hanson’s “Romantic” Symphony inspired the film composer’s score for the 1982 film “E.T.” and at times, the resemblance (especially in E.T.’s “flying” music) is remarkable. Direct references from the Hanson Second Symphony can easily be discerned in Williams’ music for the “Star Wars” film franchise, as well.

The concert will also feature traditional patriotic music and more, including a world premiere.

This free concert is made possible by the generous cooperation and assistance of Michael Reynolds – Superintendent of Yosemite National Park, the National Park Service, Yosemite Hospitality – a division of Aramark — and the musicians of the Mariposa Symphony Orchestra.

Contact the Mariposa County Arts Council at 209.966.3155 for more information.

Marsden’s fully-detailed program notes including maps, links and complete details about the composers and pieces to be performed are available online.

Photos: the Mariposa Symphony Orchestra’s only other outdoor concert in Yosemite to date on August 21, 2016 at Glacier Point, NPS photos by Al Golub.

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