After 29 Gold Medals and a rousing celebration of all things British, it was safe to say the 2012 Olympics was a roaring success. Sporting superstars Ben Ainslie, Chris Hoy, Jessica Ennis and others helped put Britain on the sporting map, the perfect follow-on from Danny Boyle's terrific Opening Ceremony, Isles of Wonder. The Opening Ceremony featured an eclectic mixture of classic rock and modern artists, in-keeping with Boyle's exuberant visual style. However, the responsibility for the music during the Closing Ceremony fell to composer David Arnold.
As Musical Director not just for the Olympics Closing Ceremony but also the Paralympics, Arnold has shouldered an enormous responsibility – greater, he explained in an interview, than any film he has worked on in the past. Working alongside Kim Gavin (responsible for Take That's 2011 stadium tour), lighting director Patrick Woodroffe, and Es Devlin (set designer for the likes of Lady Gaga and others), Arnold put in more than two years work, all of which culminated during the Ceremony itself, and is now available on album entitled A Symphony of British Music. The album features a thrilling mixture of popular hits and Arnold's own musical interludes, which were pre-recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra (although the vocal sections were performed live). The likes of Madness, Pet Shop Boys, Queen, The Who, Fatboy Slim and Muse (all selected by Arnold and his team) act as a reminder of Britain's rich musical heritage, the perfect accompaniment to the eccentric visuals (Eric Idle being paint-bombed, newspaper costumes and the like).
Arnold's own compositions are the icing on the cake, a reminder of the grandiose scale of the whole operation, which involved more than 4100 performers. His musical voice is immediately recognisable in the three original pieces composed for the ceremony: "Parade of the Athletes", "Medal Ceremony" and "Spirit of the Flame". Arnold's famously rhythmic and boisterous music has been heard in the likes of Independence Day and all the James Bond films from Tomorrow Never Dies to Quantum of Solace (although his duties here meant the reins had to be handed to Thomas Newman for Skyfall). The music for the Closing Ceremony sums up both facets of Arnold's musical personality: the patriotic bombast heard in the likes of Independence Day and the contemporary electronica heard in the likes of The World is Not Enough and Die Another Day. That his musical voice is immediately recognisable amid the plethora of classic hits on the album is testament to his strength as composer, and the music brilliantly sums up the wonder of both the Ceremony and the Olympics themselves.
"Parade of the Athletes" begins with spine-tingling, anthemic brass, strings and cymbals – a statement of British pride and power. As the track progresses, snare drums and further brass layers are added, moving the track towards a rousing, militaristic close. The epic yet warm tone of the piece not only calls to mind much of Arnold's early work in Hollywood but also classic British composers such as Elgar and Vaughn Williams. "Medal Ceremony" underlines the contemporary nature of the event as pulsing electronics and sampled percussion mix with a moving string section. It's an apt reminder of the plethora of young sporting talent who helped make the 2012 Olympics what they are. It's classical and modern, proud and rhythmic at the same time – a perfect summary of the emotions running through the event.
The live choir opens "Spirit of the Flame" in awe-inspiring fashion, before Arnold's familiar surging strings and brass sweeps the listener along. We then take an abrupt plunge into harsh electronica, much in the way that Arnold's latter day Bond scores did. However, the shift is tastefully managed – few modern composers are as good as Arnold when it comes to mixing an orchestra with electronics, and his great skill resides in the ability to underline contemporary textures with a sense of the grandiose. As the track builds to a dramatic choral close, the rousing brass theme will be familiar to fans of such Bond songs as "You Know My Name" and "Surrender".
Arnold really is one of the unsung heroes of the 2012 Olympics, alongside Seb Coe, Danny Boyle and untold numbers of others. By bringing both his knowledge of popular music and his own skills as a composer to bear on the Closing Ceremony, he ensured it was the perfect finale to a truly spectacular event, moving from the likes of David Bowie to grand orchestral forces with ease. The album A Symphony of British Music is not only a testament to the brilliant musicians this country has produced but also to a superb composer who was able to reconcile the multifaceted emotions of the Olympics and depict them in musical form. Arnold's voice is one of the strongest in modern film music and it was a delight to see it broadcast on the world stage. The sound of Britain is right here.
CD1 Track Listing
CD1 Track Listing