Any idea who conducted the anthems for the Rio Olympics?

A conductor breaks silence on his Olympic role:

Because of various sensitivities the anthems are usually recorded anew for each games.

About a year before the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics the Vancouver Symphony and I recorded over 100 national anthems, including two versions of the Kazakhstan anthem – we were told there was some uncertainty about which was correct. In some cases countries had sent their preferred versions – others just had to be procured or orchestrated. Some of the arrangements were very good indeed and some execrable. The Indian and Nepal anthems posed stylistic challenges but most were fairly straightforward. There were so many anthems with mini-fanfares and trumpet heralds that the brass had their work cut out.

I’m afraid the UK anthem sounded quite underwhelming in comparison with most others. Towards the end of the games I was in the UK and remember hearing the VSO playing ‘O Canada’ on the television in the bar of a Watford hotel when Canada won gold for hockey against the USA. We had used our traditional VSO arrangement in preference to that officially supplied – this is the same version we play on opening night every season.

As we recorded ‘O Canada’ there were dozens of cameras and journos in the hall. It was one of the earliest media events of the games:

Which conductor?

This one.

bramwell tovey2

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  • That, obviously, is Bramwell Tovey. No relation to Donald Tovey, nor, I think, to Bramwell Booth. Tovey and the VSO most certainly refused to play for the Olympics at Whistler when the VOC said they wanted them to pre-record the anthems, said recordings then to be mimed to by another orchestra and conductor on the actual occasion. I had little interest in the Games, so what happened in the event I cannot say. Perhaps, in light of Tovey’s words here, they eventually both recorded and mimed them.

  • The anthems in Rio sound electronically produced to me. The UK anthem is not official and sounds completely wrong in terms of the official laid down harmonies etc. Has there been no oversight to the process in producing these?

  • It’s a bit disarming when a personal FB post ends up on a famous blog. For the record, I have no connection with the Rio anthems.

    Your correspondent, Mr Holloway has mistakenly collated events. Recording the Vancouver 2010 anthems (in full length versions) was a great honour done in the full public gaze, as can be seen from the video. Later, the VSO and I were asked to confidentially record an orchestral work which would be mimed to at the opening ceremonies by a wholly different pick-up orchestra and another conductor. We believed this was fraudulent and declined. VANOC (the organization presenting the games) apologized to the VSO when the story became public.

  • People have obviously forgotten the anthem travesty of the 2012 Olympic Games. There were several online forums and articles about that at the time. A musician was commissioned to orchestrate all the anthems, a task which he had never undertaken before (orchestration). He complained that he hadn’t much time for the mammoth undertaking and the result is what we heard in 2012. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Rio organisers simply paid for the use of those ‘arrangements’, tho’ one can’t be totally sure unless one compares properly. Certainly the voice-leading and distribution of instruments were atrocious in 2012, leading many people to think that a beginner (who, moreover, ought to have known better) had been at work.

  • Just heard the Rio Olympics version of the UK National Anthem. Unbelievably awful. Shame on those responsible. Most would agree the tune is not great so it needs all the help it can get – but not like that.

  • The reason the UK anthem sounds especially bad is, I think, because the phrase which links the first theme with the second is just plain wrong – there should be a rising few notes before the second phrase kicks in. This version is dead before it gets started.

    • It reminds me of a Bach chorale harmonisation by an especially weak student. I’ve seen a few of those in my time!

  • Nonsense! Progress! Let’s face it the anthem is boring at least the second phrase has some decent harmonies. Within the bounds of time a good anthem.

    • That would be fine for say the GB anthem as it is so old there is no copyright. Many other countries might have copyright problems with whoever wrote them as many would be within the normal 75 year copyright laws.

  • Have to disagree with all of you here. Let’s face it: the UK National anthem is a dreary durge. I personally think the harmonisation of the Rio version is a refreshing change and brightens the whole thing up, largely due to the unexpected harmonic twists. Who arranged it?

    • Refreshing?! Absolutely nothing refreshing about harmonic progressions and cadences that are fundamentally wrong. It sounds like a bit of A-level coursework, and a terrible one at that! I much prefer a satisfying ‘dreary durge’ with an uplifting orchestration than a crap arrangement with poor orchestration (such as Croatia’s anthem at Rio 2016!)

  • The British anthem, is the same one used in London, recorded by the LPO. It sounds weird, because it was remixed after day 1 when the reviews were awful, and it ends up being the first part of first verse, then the phrase and end is from the second verse, the LOCOG view was it came to life more then the original which was flat.

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