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Let the Games Begin: Music by Composer Zhiyi Wang ’04 to be Featured at the 2008 Beijing Olympics

Jul. 30, 2008

By Julia Binder

Zhiyi Wang ’04
Photo by Yang Song

When an estimated four billion viewers worldwide tune in to the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games on August 8, they’ll hear music by composer Zhiyi Wang, who graduated from Oberlin in 2004.

Noted composer Qigang Chen, Music Director of the Opening Ceremony, selected Wang from a considerable talent pool to provide original music and orchestration. At 27, Wang is the youngest member of the composing team. He arranged four programs for orchestra and choir and co-orchestrated the theme song of the 39th Olympiad with Chen. The opening theme is “the most anticipated part of the ceremony and will color the whole program,” says Wang. “It is extremely meaningful to me that I am a part of it.”

Wang feels his biggest accomplishment among many contributions is his composition and orchestration of the Fanfare for the Ceremony. It will be performed when Jacques Rogge, President of the International Olympic Committee and Liu Qi, President of the Beijing Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games, enter the stadium to make their opening speeches. Dissatisfied with the many submissions received for this important piece, Chen asked Wang to develop music for consideration. After an initial struggle to meet the complicated criteria limiting the scope of the piece—“tonal yet uncommon, splendid yet elegant, indigenous yet international”—Wang delivered the Fanfare, which will be performed by the band of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army.

“I never imagined that I could write music for the Olympics,” Wang e-mailed friends upon accepting Chen’s invitation.” I was totally shocked and overwhelmed by excitement. It is really a huge opportunity and stage for me.”

Wang believes that his studies at the Conservatory “undoubtedly strengthened” his compositional skills and knowledge, and he is particularly grateful to Professor of Composition Randolph Coleman: ”He enormously improved my ability and broadened my vision, and consistently gave me confidence. I would not have been competent to do this important task without my experience at Oberlin.”

“Zhiyi Wang was already a well-trained composer-pianist when he came to the Conservatory,” observes Coleman. “He was required to write using musical models ranging from Aaron Copland to John Cage and many others. He assimilated what he learned into a hybrid and original style incorporating both traditional Chinese and contemporary western idioms. Thus he follows other world composers, such as Tan Dun, who transcend national boundaries and create an art that is truly 21st century.”

Originally from Suzhou, China, Wang distinguished himself at Oberlin by earning the top prize in the Premio Franz Liszt International Competition for Composers when he was only 23. His work, Three Art Songs, was the only one chosen by the composition department for performance at the Commencement recital for his graduating class.

From Oberlin, Wang went on to complete the composition program at the University of Louisville’s School of Music in 2006, supported by a two-year Grawemeyer Fellowship, one of the school’s highest honors. After graduating, he was appointed composer-in-residence at the Shanghai Opera House, where he composed and arranged several works, including the orchestration of 23 Chinese folk songs. That’s where he was during the summer of 2007, when Chen Qigang, who had heard performances of his work, contacted him.

Upon accepting Chen’s invitation, Wang moved to Beijing, where he has been busy with orchestration, transcription, and composition. “We realize that what we are sculpting will musically affect every second of the ceremony, so we are giving the best of our ability to help Beijing achieve a wonderful moment in Olympic history,” says Wang. Coleman believes that it is fitting that Wang has been honored by the Chinese government to write music for the Olympic Games. “It confirms their commitment to continue opening up their culture to include the broadest possible aesthetic choices.”

Listen to John Schaefer's Soundcheck interview with Zhiyi Wang, originally broadcast August 11, 2008, on WNYC.


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