What’s the orchestral sound of Yosemite? That was the dilemma facing Les Marsden, Founder and Conductor of the Mariposa Symphony Orchestra. But to him, the answer was as obvious as looking at the iconic Tunnel View profile of Yosemite Valley.
Marsden’s large-scale symphonic cycle called “American Anniversaries” commemorates four major celebrations of 2014-2016, with the latest movement honoring the 150th Anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s 1864 signing of the Yosemite Grant Act. That movement, “Hope in a Time of Tragedy” will premiere during the MSO’s Apr. 5 concert in Mariposa’s Fiester Auditorium and on Apr. 6 in the Ahwahnee Hotel, right in Yosemite Valley itself.
The Yosemite Grant Act marked the first time a nation designated certain exceptional lands to be held free from development, but instead to be preserved as public lands for all future generations. Signed literally while America was tearing itself apart during the Civil War, the Act led to the eventual creation of America’s National Parks with the establishment of Yellowstone in 1872.
A musical composition’s basic building blocks are its tunes or motifs, and Marsden looked to Yosemite itself for the answer to how it should sound. “The open mouth of Yosemite from the Tunnel View looking from left to right shows a panorama of sky meeting granite from El Capitan to Cathedral Rocks. That suggested a motif mirroring that profile and I wanted to add depth by always using that motif with its own built-in harmonic accompaniment in shifting thirds, the upper voice for the sky and lower representing the earth.”
Another important motif established in the opening bars are the notes A-B-E, which spell the first name of the president who signed the Act. Marsden notes,
“After a short introduction, there’s a bombastic patriotic march representing the North, a melancholic and wistful section connoting the South and then a lengthy development in which the motivic material of North and South are set against each other in a deepening, ever-darker conflict, until eventually the Yosemite motif arises from the depths of this literal, musical war between North and South. Initially simple, that ‘Yosemite’ motif builds into a fuller, heroic melody – an outdoors sound, a majestic anthem-like celebration of Yosemite – before the piece ends with an all-out joyous peal of chimes and one last ‘ABE’ from the brass in the penultimate bar.”
A full program guide to the piece and the other works on the program may be found at the Mariposa County Arts Council’s website: http://tinyurl.com/MariposaSO.
The concert opens with Guest Artist Laura Porter (Concert Grand Harpist of the Fresno Philharmonic Orchestra) and the MSO’s own Principal Flute Sandra Stocking in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Concerto for Flute, Harp and Orchestra. The concert’s second half continues with Franz Schubert’s famous 8th “Unfinished” Symphony before closing with the premiere of the 20-minute “Hope in a Time of Tragedy.”
The MSO’s Sunday, Apr. 6 at 2 p.m. matinee concert in the famed Ahwahnee Hotel is offered free of charge, first-come in partnership with the generous cooperation of the National Park Service, Yosemite National Park and Superintendent Don Neubacher, Delaware North Resorts at Yosemite (President Dan Jensen) and the Ahwahnee Hotel (Manager Brett Archer.)
The concert will also be performed on Saturday, Apr. 5 at 7 pm in the Fiester Auditorium of Mariposa County High School. Tickets for that concert only are $6 for adults and $4 for students, and may be purchased from the Mariposa County Arts Council (209) 966-3155. Tickets for the Mariposa (Fiester) Concert only are also available from the Mariposa County Visitors Center (209) 966-7081 across from Miners Roadhouse at the north end of downtown Mariposa. Full concert information: http://tinyurl.com/MariposaSO
Further information may also be obtained by calling the Mariposa County Arts Council at (209) 966-3155 or by e-mailing MSO@sti.net.