Alexandrov Ensemble

The Alexandrov Choir with Dance Ensemble, Warsaw 2009
The Alexandrovci with Iosif Kobzon as soloist
The Alexandrov Ensemble, Bielsko-Biala, 2006

The Alexandrov Ensemble is an official army choir of the Russian armed forces. Founded during the Soviet era, the ensemble consists of a male choir, an orchestra, and a dance ensemble.

The Ensemble has entertained audiences both in Russia and throughout the world, performing a range of music including folk tunes, hymns, operatic arias and popular music. The group's repertoire has included The Volga Boatmen's Song, Katyusha, Kalinka, and Ave Maria.

It is named for its first director, Alexander Vasilyevich Alexandrov (1883–1946). Its formal name since 1998 has been Academic Ensemble of Song and Dance of the Russian Army named after A. V. Alexandrov ( Russian: Академический ансамбль песни и пляски Российской Армии имени А. В. Александрова, Akademichesky ensemble pesni i plyaski Rossiyskoy Armii imeni A. V. Alexandrova), [1] shortened to Academic Ensemble ( Russian: Академический ансамбль, Akademichesky ensemble) [1] on second reference.

The Alexandrov Ensemble and the MVD Ensemble are the only groups with the right to claim the title "Red Army Choir". [2]

On 25 December 2016, its artistic director, Valery Khalilov, and 63 other members of the Ensemble were killed in the Russian Defence Ministry aircraft crash of a 1983 Tupolev Tu-154 into the Black Sea just after takeoff from the southern resort city of Sochi, Russia. [3] [4] The Red Army Choir singers and dancers were en route to Syria to entertain Russian troops there for New Year celebrations. [5]


Early years

Alexander Alexandrov

Born into a peasant family, 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. [6] 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. [6] [6]

Kazan Cathedral, St. Petersburg, where it all started. Here A.V. Alexandrov, who would one day create the ensemble, began to learn his trade.

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. [7][ specify]

The second version says that the ensemble was formed out of the Frunze Red Army Central House in 1928. There is also a story that Stalin then asked Alexandrov to relocate the choir to Moscow. [6] 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 octet, a 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.[ citation needed]

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.[ citation needed] Some sources[ who?] 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 Vasily Solovyov-Sedoy, Anatoli Novikov, Matvey Blanter and Boris Mokrousov.[ citation needed]

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.

During 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. [6] [8] [9] [10] [11]

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, [6] with 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 Novodevichy Cemetery. [12] 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." [13][ specify]

Alexandrov ensemble dancers, Budapest, 1951

Major Vladimir Alexandrov (b. 1910; d.1978), brother of Boris Alexandrov, also composed for the ensemble. [14] He served as Orchestral Director and Conductor. [15]

Vladimir Gordeev was the principal conductor on the 1988 UK tour. [16]

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." [17]

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 Beethoven's 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. [18] [19] [20] 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) Prague, Most, Brno, Devin, Bratislava, Moravská Ostrava, Žilina and Kosice in Czechoslovakia; then apparently without a break (18 July to 10 October) Dresden, Weimar, Magdeburg, Stendal, Schwerin, Potsdam, Berlin, Rathenow, Leipzig, Halle, Lane, Erfurt, Chemnitz, Frankfurt an der Oder and Schwarzenberg in Germany. [21] [22]

In 1990, the ensemble participated in Roger Waters' The Wall concert celebrating the fall of the Berlin Wall. They performed an anti-war song, Bring the Boys Back Home.[ citation needed]

After 1991

In 1993, the ensemble became an item of pop culture by performing with the Finnish band Leningrad Cowboys in Helsinki, 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 rockumentary Total Balalaika Show by film director Aki Kaurismäki. That year they also made a CD and played a concert with French singer Jean-Jacques Goldman. The ensemble and the Leningrad Cowboys performed Sweet Home Alabama at the 1994 MTV Video Music Awards.[ citation needed]

Today, the ensemble is led by Honoured Artist of Russia Vyacheslav Korobko, who has been leading it since 2003. [6]

Over the years, the ensemble has collaborated with many popular artists and producers including David Foster, Jean-Jacques Goldman and Steve Barakatt.

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, [23][ specify] and there have been further variations to the dress uniform as used by the ensemble since 1970.[ citation needed]

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. [24] [25] The plane crashed with no survivors. Young singer Valeria Kurnushkina who frequently performed Katyusha with the choir was not on board the plane. [26]


After 5 weeks, the choir was reformed anew in time for Defender of the Fatherland Day celebrations on 18 February 2017. [27] 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.

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