Born into a
Alexander Vasilyevich Alexandrov became the first artistic director of the ensemble, choirmaster, conductor, teacher and the public figure who wrote the music to the
National Anthem of the Soviet Union.
 He came from a musical background of hymns and
folk songs, could play the
viola and had
perfect pitch, so he sang in the church choir and performed at festivals. He was heard singing at the village school by PA Zalivuhin, a soloist in the choir at
Kazan Cathedral, St. Petersburg. Zalivuhin persuaded Alexandrov's parents to let the child go to
St Petersburg to learn music. In 1898, the young peasant boy became a pupil of the
Saint Petersburg Court Chapel.
There are two recorded histories of the ensemble: possibly separate elements of the same history. The first says that the initiator of the ensemble was Felix Nikolaevich Danilovich, a theatre director. The first director of the ensemble was chosen from three of Moscow's conductors: Danilin, Chesnokov and Alexandrov. Seen in isolation this would signify that A. V. Alexandrov was not the creator of the ensemble. In this version the first troupe is named as follows. Singers: Tkachenko, Zyukov, Samarin, Rozanov, Koltypin, Tolskov, Golyaev, Charov. Dancers: Maximov, Svetlov. Bayanist: Surdin.
The second version says that the ensemble was formed out of the
Red Army Central House in 1928. There is also a story that
Stalin then asked Alexandrov to relocate the choir to
 Under the name Red Army Song Ensemble of the M. V. Frunze Red Army Central House, shortly the "Red Army Choir", twelve soldier-performers – a vocal
bayan player, 2
dancers, and a reciter – officially performed for the first time on 12 October 1928 under the direction of their
conductor, Alexandr Alexandrov, a young music professor at the
Moscow Conservatory. The program, entitled The 22nd Krasnodar Division in Song, consisted mainly of short musical scenes of military life, including Songs of the First Cavalry Army, The Special Far-Eastern Army, and Song about Magnitostroi.
In 1929, the ensemble visited the far eastern lands of the Soviet Union, entertaining the troops working on the
Far Eastern Railway.
With the goal of developing amateur art within the ranks of the army and to encourage soldiers' interest in good music, the ensemble grew to 300 performers by 1933, comprising three different forces of a male choir, an orchestra, and an ensemble of dancers.Vasily Solovyov-Sedoy,
Matvey Blanter and
Some sources say that in 1933 there were 19 members; in 1935 there were 135 and in August 1937 in Paris and Prague they were 150. The Red Army Choir became known as a propagator of Soviet songs, performing original compositions by composers such as
In 1935, the choir was bestowed the
Order of the Red Banner and was renamed the Red Army Red-bannered Song and Dance Ensemble of the USSR.
Having traveled widely throughout the Soviet Union, from the Arctic north to the sands of
Tajikistan, the choir performed at the
International Exposition dedicated to Art and Technology in Modern Life held in 1937 in
Paris, France; it won the Grand Prix, the highest honor bestowed by the jury.
World War II, the ensemble gave over 1500 performances at both Soviet fronts, entertaining troops about to go into battle, at gun emplacements, airfields, and in hospitals.
Under Boris Alexandrovich Alexandrov
Following the death of Alexander Alexandrov, the ensemble was taken over by his son,
Boris Alexandrovich Alexandrov. Under his leadership, the ensemble gained fame outside the Soviet Union, making extensive tours worldwide. Boris Alexandrov retired in 1987, and was succeeded by
People's Artist of Russia
Igor Agafonnikov the same year,
Anatoly Maltsev as the ensemble chief. He retired as the principal conductor in 1994; he died that year and was buried in Moscow at the
 He was succeeded by Victor Fedorov, the chorus master since 1986.
Under B. A. Alexandrov, the ensemble was highly disciplined. Boris's party trick was to leave the stage and allow the ensemble to perform "En Route" alone. Members were positioned so that they could not all watch one orchestral leader, and this appeared to be a trick, but there was no trick at all.
Leonid Kharitonov remembers:
"The Ensemble members were so disciplined and experienced that they could feel the rhythm simultaneously and could sing and play together automatically, without the conductor… In Canada during one concert Alexandrov left the Ensemble to perform alone for half an hour."
Alexandrov ensemble dancers,
Major Vladimir Alexandrov (b. 1910; d.1978), brother of Boris Alexandrov, also composed for the ensemble.
 He served as Orchestral Director and Conductor.
Vladimir Gordeev was the principal conductor on the 1988 UK tour.
1948 Berlin Peace Concert
1948 peace concert at Berlin. Photo taken by member of choir from stage, probably using Boris Alexandrov's camera. Boris Alexandrov has posed for this, holding baton still.
In 1948 much of Berlin was still ruined after
World War II, and the city was divided into four occupation zones, controlled by the
USSR, France, the UK and the United States. This was before the
Berlin Wall was built, and it was still possible to travel between zones. An American officer suggested a concert in the
Gendarmenmarkt (in the Soviet zone at the time), and the French zone commander supported the suggestion. The musicians were to be provided by the USSR, and the Alexandrov Ensemble was chosen. A temporary stage was set up in the square, with flowers all along the front. 30,000 people came to stand and watch for three hours. In 1994, towards the end of his life, Boris Alexandrov said:
"The visit to Germany was unforgettable. It is dominant in the history of the ensemble. It was necessary to make a new creative leap – from wartime military music to postwar relaxing harmony. It was important, and the transition had to be managed on many fronts, including getting the Ensemble back into its original pre-war role, performing the classics and singing folk songs. Before the war the Ensemble had 200 professional singers; following the war it was down to 60."
A previous tour to
East Germany had been cancelled due to the sudden death of Alexander Alexandrov in 1946 in
Potsdam, when in his bed was found an annotated copy of
Symphony No. 9, showing that A. Alexandrov had been preparing the final chorus for a performance. Now Boris, his son, was ready to follow his father's plan. The 1948 peace concert was to consist of German opera extracts and Russian folk songs (Nightingales, Zemlyanka and Roads); and after an intervention by the tenor
Victor Nikitin, some German folk songs were also included. The people joined in, singing
Heidenröslein, and Nikitin sang
Kalinka three times in a row. The concert was very successful, and very moving.
 A sound recording of the concert was made, and pressed in 1985 under the
Radio DDR 1 label. This is listed on the
Alexandrov Ensemble discography page.
However the Berlin Peace Concert did not happen in isolation. It was part of a series of punishing yearly tours to war-torn areas. The main tour season during and just after World War II appears to have run from June to October – perhaps because the large troupe usually had to perform outdoors, to accommodate large audiences. The August 1948 Berlin concert occurred two-thirds of the way through a tour to (20 June to 18 July)
Czechoslovakia; then apparently without a break (18 July to 10 October)
Frankfurt an der Oder and
Schwarzenberg in Germany.
In 1990, the ensemble participated in
The Wall concert celebrating the fall of the
Berlin Wall. They performed an anti-war song, Bring the Boys Back Home.
In 1993, the ensemble became an item of pop culture by performing with the Finnish band
Leningrad Cowboys in
Finland where they performed on the Senate Square in front of 70,000 ecstatic listeners, and in
Berlin. In the German capital, the concert of the Leningrad Cowboys with the ensemble took place on the central
Lustgarten and gave the former Red Army's farewell to Berlin and the whole Germany an optimistic overtone. The Finnish concert was made into a
Total Balalaika Show by film director
Aki Kaurismäki. That year they also made a CD and played a concert with
Jean-Jacques Goldman. The ensemble and the Leningrad Cowboys performed
Sweet Home Alabama at the
1994 MTV Video Music Awards.
Today, the ensemble is led by
Honoured Artist of Russia
Vyacheslav Korobko, who has been leading it since 2003.
Over the years, the ensemble has collaborated with many popular artists and producers including
Jean-Jacques Goldman and
Until 1969, the standard uniform for the ensemble choir, soloists and orchestra was the tunic and riding breeches. On 1 January 1970, this was changed to dress uniform,
 and there have been further variations to the dress uniform as used by the ensemble since 1970.
2016 plane crash
On 25 December 2016, a Russian Defence Ministry
Tupolev Tu-154 carrying 64 members of the Alexandrov Ensemble Choir went down 1.5 km (0.93 mi) off the coast of
Sochi, Russia while en route to
Latakia, Syria for a
Christmas celebration with the troops deployed at
Khmeimim military base.
 The plane crashed with no survivors. Young singer Valeria Kurnushkina who frequently performed Katyusha with the choir was not on board the plane.
After 5 weeks, the choir was reformed anew in time for
Defender of the Fatherland Day celebrations on 18 February 2017.
 That first concert in weeks marks also the birth of a new era for the Ensemble, with its first international tour following the crash with concerts not just in Russia but also in select European countries. Most of the new members joined through auditions held on 15 and 27 January 2017 by the Ministry of Defense of Russia.