Tokyo 2020 Olympics opening ceremony: Every piece of music played at the event

23 July 2021, 15:59 | Updated: 23 July 2021, 17:17

All the music at Tokyo’s Olympics Opening Ceremony: pianist Hiromi plays virtuosic jazz
All the music at Tokyo’s Olympics Opening Ceremony: pianist Hiromi plays virtuosic jazz. Picture: Getty

By Maddy Shaw Roberts

Music has been at the heart of Olympics Opening Ceremonies since the first modern games in 1896. And while Tokyo 2020 has been wrapped in controversy, there is some spectacular music scoring today’s ceremony.

After being postponed for a year, Tokyo 2020 finally graced our screens on Friday 23 July, live from the city’s Olympic Stadium.

The run-up to the ceremony was shrouded in controversy. With just days to go before the Opening Ceremony, organisers were forced to take on a complete rewrite of the music. Composer Keigo Oyamada, who had written a four-minute piece to score the pomp and circumstance of Friday morning’s ceremony, quit his post over past comments about bullying classmates with disabilities.

One day before the grand spectacle, a second setback saw the show’s director dismissed over comments about the Holocaust.

“How we’re going to handle the ceremony is currently being discussed,” committee president Seiko Hashimoto told reporters on Thursday, as news emerged of director Kentaro Kobayashi’s dismissal.

Here’s all the brilliant music we heard at the Tokyo 2020 Opening Ceremony.

Read more: All the video game music used at the Tokyo 2020 opening ceremony

Tokyo 2020 Opening Ceremony begins on Friday 23 July at the city’s Olympic Stadium
Tokyo 2020 Opening Ceremony begins on Friday 23 July at the city’s Olympic Stadium. Picture: Getty

Who sang Japan’s national anthem?

Japanese star singer MISIA performed Japan’s national anthem, the short hymn ‘Kimigayo’.

Read more: What are the lyrics to Japan’s national anthem?

What live music was at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics Ceremony?

Live music and dance played a crucial role in the Opening Ceremony. The event opened with a beautifully choreographed dance by a mass of performers, accompanied by a solo pianist in the stadium.

Following a beautiful tribute to Japan’s healthcare workers during pandemic times, Tokyo 2020 performers sang a ‘Work Song’ as traditional carpenters would once have done, singing as they chiseled and sawed.

Giant wooden rings were carried in on a platform, in a spectacular visual stunt to honour the country’s ancient tradition of carpentry and woodwork.

Read more: 12 glorious pieces of classical music inspired by the Olympic Games

Japanese singer MISIA performed a poignant rendition of her country’s national anthem
Japanese singer MISIA performed a poignant rendition of her country’s national anthem. Picture: Getty

As each country’s representatives prepared to enter the stadium, athletes and a great symphony orchestra warmed up together.

And as conductor cued in players and athletes, flag bearers entered the stadium accompanied by orchestral renditions of popular melodies from legendary Japanese video games, a hugely important musical export for Japan. Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest and Kingdom Hearts, composed by Yoko Shimomura who made waves in the Classic FM Hall of Fame 2021, have all been heard so far in the great symphonic medley.

Korean-American fashion designer Yoon Ahn shared the full list of video games on Twitter (see below).

Click to listen to Classic FM’s Video Game Music playlist on Global Player

Towards the end of the ceremony, we heard a massed take on John Lennon’s anthem for peace, ‘Imagine’, by the child singers of the Suginami Junior Chorus and other artists from across Africa, Europe and the Americas, represented by pop singer John Legend, and Oceania, represented by country singer Keith Urban.

A standout piece in the ceremony was the Olympic Hymn, a choral cantata by opera composer Spyridon Samaras, which was heard at the first-ever modern Summer Olympics in Greece, in 1896, and marked the Games as they returned in 2021.

Following the hymn was ‘Wings to Fly’, sung by Scottish talent show winner Susan Boyle, which accompanied the flying of animated doves across the stadium.

Next, jazz and theatre lit up the stadium as virtuoso pianist and composer Hiromi scored a traditional Kabuki theatre-style performance by one of the country’s foremost acting talents, Ichikawa Ebizo.

What music scored the lighting of the torches?

As the torches were lit, we heard Ravel’s Boléro, in a musical moment reminiscent of the 1984 Winter Olympic Games in Sarajevo, when iconic figure skating pair, Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean, skated to Olympic gold with the beloved classical work.

Read more: Definitively the greatest classical music moments in Olympics history

Was there music during the raising of the flag?

A piece of vocal music arranged and scored by Japanese composer Shirō Sagisu accompanied the solemn raising of the Japanese flag. ‘The Anthem’, starring singer MISIA, featured backing vocals from a multi-tracked SATB chorus of Classic FM presenter Catherine Bott, Deborah Miles-Johnson, Andrew Busher and Michael George.

Sagisu said his piece “beat off stiff competition” to be chosen as the music to accompany the flag-raising, at about 12.15pm on Friday 23 July.

Mr Bean's Orchestral Experience and Hilarious Sketch at the London Olympics Opening Ceremony

What is the official song for the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics and Paralympic Games?

The official theme has been tipped as ‘Colourful’, a new song performed by a chorus of J-Pop (Japanese pop) artists.

‘Colourful’ has been produced by writer and producer Ryosuke Imai in collaboration with Team Coca-Cola, an Olympics project working to create opportunities for those “who long to be involved in Tokyo 2020 to be part of this very special moment in time”.

14 singers have gathered to record the track, which celebrates diversity of nationality, race, gender, age and career. They include AI, Motohiro Hata, Little Glee Monster, Daichi Miura, Perfume, Taemin, MIYAVI, Nasty C, Sabrina Carpenter, Ayumu Imazu, Blue Vintage, Mizki, Sanari, and Chikuzen Sato.

The song ties in with the motto of the event, ‘United by Emotion’.

Colorful (チーム コカ・コーラ公式ソング)

Past opening ceremonies have seen the great Luciano Pavarotti sing his final ‘Nessun dorma’ for Turin’s 2006 Winter Olympics, Freddie Mercury and Montserrat Caballé’s peerless vocal talents soundtracking Barcelona’s 1992 Summer Olympics, and the London Symphony Orchestra playing dignified Elgar for the 2012 Olympics in the UK’s capital city.

How can I watch the Tokyo 2020 Opening Ceremony?

The Tokyo Olympics Opening Ceremony will be broadcast live in the UK on BBC One and Eurosport.

Set to get underway at 8pm local time, it will begin at 12pm BST in the UK and is scheduled to last three hours. It will be available to watch on iPlayer afterwards.

In the US, it will be broadcast by NBC across all time zones.