Opening & Closing Ceremonies of the 2004 Athens Olympics


Decoding the composition
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Here are some notes I compiled from various presentations…..


Pleasure to be able to talk about this because the process was shrouded in so much secrecy that not many people know what I did. I’m going to talk a bit then show you some dvd footage of the cues I was involved in.


  • Unknown job interview with George Koumendakis.
  • Phone call
  • unlike what you’d imagine I didn’t immediately accept –
  • Freeing up the time – Stuart McCutcheon (then VC of VUW) was very supportive. Arts Laureate timing.
  • Decision made with Carla. Knew it would be disruptive, but I’d be supported at home.
  • Chance meeting with David Hirschfelder


Before I could travel - formidable confidentiality contract. (toward the end it became a real challenge keeping my involvement out of the media).

I asked was it because I was Greek? No – not parochial; they wanted an international sound.

Their research; several years. Cupboard of short list materials – 600 composers. In this cupboard was my Te Papa fanfare.

As they revealed their vision I was blown away by their daring and creativity. E.g. DJ Tiesto for the entrance of the athletes = party atmosphere.

Ceremonies divided into two elements: protocol and creative. Protocol segments are the obligatory sections in the ceremony – the things that must formally take place, such as the raising of the national and Olympics flags, the swearing of the oaths, the arrival and placing of the Olympic Flame etc. Often the protocol sections have been pretty tedious, but this creative team had the ambition to make the protocol segments as powerful and satisfying as the creative segments.

Originally disappointing but then I realized I was to be involved with the strongest symbols associated with the Games. The most important and meaningful moments.

They got a feel for my sense of what was being celebrated. Greece’s recent history – 1st and 2nd WW, Civil war, military dictatorship – it is really the last 30 years that the general population have experienced a sense of ownership and control over Greece’s cultural and historical direction. Given this historical context it was essential that I felt (not merely understood) the importance of the statement being made for Greece and it’s history.

Many trips to Greece in the next year. Sometimes just for 2 or 3 days.


Came back and worked until the very last minute. So close to the wire that they were recording the music for the closing ceremony after the opening ceremony had occurred.

The time pressure was phenomenal and just kept getting tighter and tighter. I began working on this material in late 2003 – about 9 months out from the Opening Ceremony. At the Sydney 2000 games the music had been composed and recorded 9 months out!      

Even though it didn’t seem it at the time, in retrospect, the work itself i.e. realizing the vision through music, was not so difficult. I was very fortunate to be working with a great musical director;

  • An excellent composer in his own right
  • A great communicator
  • Excellent manager of the project

Overall vision was to paint with broad, bold strokes. No fancy stuff. Musically this translated to more Dorian style of melody (not much melisma or melodic decoration). It was a challenge doing things in the time available as the vision kept evolving right up to the last minute.


You’d think being on the other side of the planet would be a handicap but in fact….

I-work- they-sleep / I-sleep-they-provide-feedback


Most important outcomes:

  • I was part of and contributed to a Grand Experience
  • I didn’t let them down – I validated their decision to choose me.

More details about each cue can be found below


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Project Details


Opening & Closing Ceremonies of the 2004 Athens Olympics

Commissioner: Athens 2004 Organizing Committee

Instrumentation: Orchestra, Traditional Greek Woodwind

Premiered August 12, 2004 at the Olympic Stadium in Athens, Greece

Difficulty Level:
Instrument Tags:
English Horn
Cor Anglais
Bass Clarinet
French Horn
Bass Trombone
Mixed Percussion
Greek traditional woodwind
Digital Audio


1. Fanfare for IOC and ATHOC Presidents Arrival | 01:40

Major chords only (like arguing intensely using only euphemism) – any other kind of chord labeled ‘anxious’

Spot the miming musicians

(NB Greek President has own fanfare)

2. Walk of the Presidents | 01:10

3. Raising of the Greek Flag – the Greek National Anthem | 01:00

  • composer – Nikolaos Mantzaro
  • Poet – Dionysios Solomos
  • The stripes respresent the number of syllables in the phrase “Eleftheria I Thanatos” (freedom or death). The striped pattern was chosen because of its similarity with the wavy sea that surrounds the shores of Greece. The Cross demonstrates respect and devotion to Christianity and the Orthodox Church.

4. Fanfare for Speeches | 01:43

Writing the moment for this amazing (doubly so for Greece) woman’s achievment, and her defining moment.

Public and media adversity

Broad strokes, major chords only

5. Entrance of the Olympic Flag – Sta Pervolia by Mikis Theodorakis | 07:10

Theodorakis as musical and cultural icon. What he means to Greece and Greek music

Equivalent to arranging Beethoven in Beethoven’s lifetime.

Especially symbolic moment as this signifies the return of the Olympic Flag to Greece.

One of my strongest memories – teaching two of my musical heroes (Manos and Vagelis – who were here for the Festival in March in Zeibekiko), this tune in an Athens studio. Sitting at a piano and playing it to them. Oral tradition.

6. John’s Olympic Flag (disc 2) | 06:25

Composed (under hugely positive encouragement all the way) an entire work (some 6-7 minutes for orchestra, choir, folk ensemble).

Day I finished was the day they said “it’s exactly what we wanted but the entire concept has changed” we now want you to arrange this piece of Theodorakis’,

Telephone protocol – always say ‘no problem’. But when they hangup – tantrums and phone destruction.

So now I have a useless piece of music.

MIDI mockups

Chance to play a small part to an audience.

7. Raising of the Olympic Flag (the Olympic Anthem) | 02:30

  • composer – Spiros Samaras
  • poet – Kostis Palamas
  • Commissioned to be the Olympic Anthem when the modern Olympic Games restarted in Athens 1896

8. Torch Journey Around the World – Debussy King Lear | 01:20

Little known fanfare Debussy wrote for a production of King Lear.

Collaborative composition – making something twice as long without seeming to.

Even though composed by two composers, had to sound like it came from one pen. Not easy with Debussy as he was one of the ultimate perfectionists.

9. Torchbearers and Lighting of the Cauldron | 06:50

Little known piece of  film music by Dimitri Shostakovich from the soundtrack to the 1947  movie “Pirogov” by Grigory Kozyntsev.

This was the most stressful – many changes right up to the last minute.

Multiple timelines (for the runners) – EXPLAIN

Multiple synchronized arrangements running on computer.

In a piece that had to continually build it was a challenge to match the intensities when segments may be repeated or cut.

10. Fireworks | 01:25

Final big exclamation mark. Had to musically follow on from Shostakovich, yet be a fanfare.

Coordinating timings with Fireworks artist