Music from the Opening Ceremony of the Winter Olympics

Whatever ones personal feelings about Russia’s laws regarding personal freedom and sexuality, you can’t deny that the country has produced some cracking composers over the years.

Watching the Opening Ceremony of the Winter Olympics on Friday night was like watching a Who’s Who list of my all time favourite composers. Late Romantic Russian music is probably my favourite genre of classical music and the following pieces were played in a sort of Russian-classical-mash up offering during the last part of the Opening Ceremony.

First of all the magnificent (and gay, just saying, Putin) Pytor Llyich Tachaikovsky and his ageless sounding Swan Lake, danced here by the American Ballet Theatre. The last five minutes of this ballet are some of the best five minutes of music you will ever hear in my opinion.

Another firm favourite to be played during the ceremony was Polovtsian Dances from Borodin’s opera, Prince Igor, here performed by the mighty Kirov Ballet and Opera Company. The driving rhythms and lyrical folk melodies are simply enchanting. Add in some powerful orchestral parts and weighty harmonies and you have an incredibly powerful and memorable piece of music. You might recognise the melody as ‘Stranger In Paradise’ from the musical Kismet.

Lastly and probably my all time favourite piece of music is The Firebird by Igor Stravinky. The ballet is based on Russian folk tales of the magical glowing bird that can be both a blessing and a curse to its owner. When the ballet was first performed on 25 June 1910, it was an instant success with both audience and critics and still wows audiences round the world today. It is another ageless and inspiring ballet.

You might have seen during the finale of the Opening Ceremony that the Olympic flame was lit on an object that looked like a tail. This is representative of the tail of the Firebird. I saw this performed many times by the wonderful Mara Galeazzi at The Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, sadly I can’t find a video with her in it, but here is one with the Royal Ballet. Whilst all of the music is wonderful, start from about 4 minutes in if you want to get to the highlights.

Also, if you were interested who the choir was, it was these guys, they’ve been going for 600 years; they must use some great moisturiser.

It’s not really surprising that all three of these wonderful pieces are for ballet. Music and dance are both passionate, intense, complex art forms and this is a perfect example of the sum of their parts being even greater when combined. If you’ve never been to see live ballet with an orchestra, then I strongly recommend you give it a go, and maybe start off with a magnificent, firey Russian composer.

Lastly, one can’t talk about the Winter Olympics and skiing without referencing this little gem. Enjoy!