Debbie Croft: Music in Mariposa and Merced

“Wilderness – Our Necessary Refuge” is the opening musical score for tomorrow night’s concert by the Mariposa Symphony Orchestra. This original composition is the newest work of Les Marsden, symphony founder and director.

The first of four anniversaries involving Yosemite National Park occurs in 2014. Each of the gateway communities were asked to celebrate in some way. Representing Mariposa, Marsden offered to create a musical poem.

But how does a composer capture in music the sounds of a wilderness?

Marsden says he drew from his own experiences with nature. Inspired by John Muir’s idea of overcivilized people needing the wilderness, Marsden’s piece focuses on the classic components of our planet: earth, water, air and fire. His challenge was to musically interpret such powerful elements as rivers and waterfalls, thunderstorms and earthquakes — or a gentle rain and tranquil pond.

A custom-made wind machine will be the newest instrument on stage for this performance, which begins the symphony’s 12th season.

Also on the program are Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 97 in C, Giuseppe Verdi’s overture to “I Vespri Siciliani,” Richard Wagner’s prelude to the opera “Die Meistersinger vön Nurnberg,” as well as Wagner’s prelude to Act III and Bridal Chorus from the opera “Lohengrin.”

Both Verdi and Wagner were born in 1813, marking this year as the bicentennial for each of these opera giants.

Verdi’s young music career almost fizzled into nothing, as his first opera saw only mild success. Following personal heartbreak, his second opera failed miserably. Having made a prior agreement with an impresario, an obligation to produce a third propelled his music (and his career) into national favor. Verdi is still considered Italy’s greatest composer.

Wagner’s music-drama style may not have been appreciated during his lifetime, but history speaks of the genius behind the ego. His compositions radically transformed the development of musical drama and harmony, which is appreciated by musicians even today.

While Haydn is known for his more exuberant symphonies, the 97th seems to be a return to his gentler style. As one of the most sensitive composers of all time, his music contains a lyrical quality — as if the instruments themselves sing.

The performance will be held in the Fiester Auditorium of the Mariposa County High School at 7 p.m. Saturday. Admission is $6 for adults and $4 for students. Tickets may be purchased at the Mariposa County Arts Council office or at the Visitors Center. Call (209) 966-3155 for more information or go to

Jazz in Merced

Galleries, classrooms, dance studios, a black box theater and the offices of the Merced County Arts Council are all situated within the Merced Multicultural Arts Center in downtown Merced. Through programs, workshops and events, the center promotes artistry in all its forms.

Many times throughout the year local and guest musicians appear in the 2,400-square-foot theater. A modern staging system brings performers and audiences closer together for small-scale productions.

Next weekend the center presents Slumgum, a Los Angeles-based jazz quartet. Slumgum is gaining rave reviews for its imaginative and exploratory sound. In describing themselves, their original music is delivered with spontaneity and blended with grit and finesse.

The group recently won the 2013 Chamber Music America-American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers award for adventurous programming.

Slumgum is comprised of Jon Armstrong on tenor saxophone, Rory Cowal on piano, Dave Tranchina playing bass and Trevor Anderies providing rhythm on the drums. All four studied at California Institute of the Arts.

Cornetist Hugh Ragin joined them in recording their third album, “The Sky His Own.” Ragin will also perform with the band in the upcoming concert. He has played with well-known jazz artists during his lengthy career. His contribution adds a deeper texture to Slumgum’s sound, giving jazz lovers even more to enjoy.

Slumgum will bring its uniquely adventurous jazz to Merced at 8 p.m. Oct. 25. The Arts Center theater is at 645 W. Main St. on the first floor. Ticket prices are $12 for center members, $15 for the general public and $10 for students.

For details or to purchase tickets, call (209) 388-1090 or go to the center’s website and events calendar at