Olympic Fire at the BBC Proms

‘Olympic Fire evokes the image of fire, not just as a physical power but as a spiritual power… to embody the idea of different cultures meeting and transforming’ Chen Yi, 2008

Chen Yi’s Olympic Fire was commissioned by the KT Wong Foundation and the BBC to celebrate the opening of the Beijing Olympics in 2008. Premiering at the Royal Albert Hall for the world famous BBC Proms, this unique piece integrated contemporary Western styles with Chinese folk song.

A 15-minute piece charged with energy, Olympic Fire fuses intonations of Chinese melody with the sort of rhythmic pizzazz often associated with Leonard Bernstein. Performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and conducted by Leonard Slatkin, it wowed audiences and critics alike.

Chen, who experienced the turmoil of China’s Cultural Revolution during her youth, believes the piece is an expression of the Olympic spirit, capturing the concept of modern China as integral to the global community. As Chen herself remarks:

Olympic Fire evokes the image of fire, not just as a physical power but also as a spiritual power… to embody the idea of different cultures meeting and transforming’.

* Since its premiere in 2008, Chen Yi’s Olympic Fire has been retitled Rhyme of Fire.

Chen Yi's 'Olympic Fire' Press

The Daily Telegraph (London)

‘To coincide with the opening ceremonies in Beijing, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra began last night’s concert with Olympic Fire, a new BBC commission from Chen Yi, the Chinese composer.

The piece fuses the tangy intonations of Chinese melody with the sort of rhythmic pizzazz associated with Leonard Bernstein, with bright timbres, plenty of percussion and a wild cadenza for the timpani that intensifies the momentum and fuels the general mood of tireless exuberance.

It certainly gave the RPO and conductor Leonard Slatkin the chance for a workout.’

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The Independent (London)

‘Chen Yi’s Olympic Fire came first in Leonard Slatkin’s programme with the Royal Philharmonic – only fitting on the opening day of the Beijing Games.’

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Press – The Guardian (London)

‘Friday night’s two Proms, inevitably perhaps, had Olympic associations. Early in the evening, Leonard Slatkin and the Royal Philharmonic gave the world premiere of Chen Yi’s Olympic Fire.

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