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MSO opening concert 2002 - photo courtesy Les Marsden

Magical Birth Of The Mariposa Symphony Orchestra

MARIPOSA – On Thursday Dec. 19, 2002, an early-season snowstorm knocked out power to many areas of Mariposa County just two days before a very special event.

Temperatures dropped, dark skies glowered and roads became icy. Though the town of Mariposa kept its lights on, it was touch-and-go for two days – could a musical infant still be born? Would the Mariposa Symphony Orchestra be able to go ahead with its first-ever concert that Saturday, Dec. 21?

Miraculously, power returned just hours before the concert’s planned start, roads were cleared and a festive, laughing, warmly-dressed throng of eager attendees completely filled the Fiester Auditorium at Mariposa County High School.

The MSO’s Founding Music Director and Conductor Les Marsden looked out over that audience with gratitude – his dream had become reality as a new orchestra came into this world. And Mariposa became the smallest town in America with its very own symphony orchestra.

It had taken many months of organizing and then over twelve weeks of rehearsals to get to that point; admittedly the music was more than a little rough that evening. The 31 musicians of the then-small orchestra were able to all fit on the Fiester’s tiny stage.

But something magical happened that evening. The weather outside, the stress of the holidays, shopping, last-minute gift-wrapping, baking and planning were all left behind at home as enthralled concert-goers heard their own friends, family, neighbors and strangers make music. That music, like the cooing and laughter of an infant, warmed hearts against the cold outside and brought the humanity of the holidays into every heart.

And now, 16 years later, as the MSO belatedly begins its 17th season, Marsden hopes as he does every December that the concert’s attendees will enjoy a little gift all their own – an evening when the spirit of the holidays will wash over each and every one with the help of joyous music.

The orchestra has doubled in size since that first concert and a large extension for the Fiester’s forestage consequently had to be built by the MSO, with use of it donated to the school for its own events.

The quality of the music-making and sophistication of repertoire have both advanced to a remarkable degree. And this year Marsden himself will be more grateful than ever as he returns to the podium after a series of surgeries in August and September caused him to cancel the orchestra’s usual October season-opening concert.

It’s become a welcome Mariposa tradition – the MSO’s annual Festive Holiday Concert. This year’s is scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 15, at 7 p.m. in the Fiester Auditorium of Mariposa County High School. The MSO is a program of the Mariposa County Arts Council, Inc.

The concert will open with Ludwig van Beethoven’s 7th Symphony in A, opus 92 – a performance on the eve of that composer’s 248th birthday. Music associated with December festivities including New Year celebrations will follow, including “The Waltz King” Johann Strauss II’s overture “Die Fledermaus,” Émile Waldteufel’s “Les Patineurs” (“The Skaters’ Waltz”) and the Waltz from the ballet “The Sleeping Beauty” by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.

The concert will close with Marsden’s “Sierra Christmas Party” – just as every MSO concert has since the very first on Dec. 21, 2002. Information including Marsden’s extensive program notes and composer bios/photos for each piece is available at http://tinyurl.com/MariposaSO.

Tickets for the MSO’s 2018 Festive Holiday Concert are priced at $10 for adults and $6 for students. Mariposa County Arts Council Members receive discounted prices at $8 for adults and $5 for students.

Tickets are now available for secure online purchase by visiting the Arts Council’s Shop page http://tinyurl.com/MSOTickets. Tickets are also available in person at the Mariposa County Arts Council’s office and Treetop Gallery on the top floor of the Chocolate Soup store (5009 Highway 140) at the southern entrance to the town of Mariposa. Call (209) 966-3155 for tickets and information.

“Sixteen years later, it’s still a wonderful way to leave your cares behind and revel in the spirit of the holidays, surrounded by friends and family in the audience – as well as on that now-larger stage,” says Marsden. “And that musical infant, dragged kicking and screaming into this world all those years ago, makes for an ever-more wonderful, warm companion on a cold wintry evening in December.”

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