Obituary: Boris Alexandrov

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Boris Alexandrov, conductor, choirmaster, composer: born Bologoe, Russia 22 July 1905; Chief Conductor and Artistic Director, Alexander Alexandrov Red Army Song and Dance Ensemble 1946-86; died Moscow 16 June 1994.

UNDER its Chief Conductor, Boris Alexandrov, the Red Army Song and Dance Ensemble acquired an international reputation and performed all over the world in the post-war era.

Boris Alexandrov was born in Bologoe, northern Russia, in 1905, the son of the Russian composer, conductor and choirmaster Alexander Alexandrov. In 1925, Boris entered the Moscow Conservatoire, where he studied under Reinhold Gliere, and where his father was Deputy Dean of the Military Conducting faculty. At the same time Boris worked as a conductor at several small clubs. In 1929 he graduated and received the post of conductor and musical director at the newly organised Red Army Central Theatre; his father a year before had founded, and was chief conductor of, the 12-strong Red Army Song Ensemble, which was attached to the theatre. The repertoire consisted of many traditional Russian soldier songs which had been favoured by the Imperial Russian army and White army during the Civil War of 1919-22, but a few propaganda songs were added to conform to the new times. One of the most famous was 'Poluiskho Pole' ('My little field'), originally a White Army song, which Alexandrov pere took over for his ensemble and Alexandrov fils adopted for his theatre.

In 1930, Boris Alexandrov became musical director of the Red Army Central Theatre, a post he retained until 1937. From 1933 until June 1941, when the Soviet Union was drawn into the Second World War, he was also a professor at the Moscow Conservatoire, which moved out of Moscow when the Germans advanced to on the capital. In 1942 he became chief conductor of his father's Red Army Song Ensemble, now under the patronage of the All-Union Radio service. He was given the rank of colonel. They performed at the front to boost the morale of soldiers and officers. The ensemble was kept small in order to be mobile: just a male choir, with a repertoire of nationalist and propaganda songs.

In July 1946, when the ensemble was on tour in East Berlin, Alexander Alexandrov died and his son took over. Boris Alexandrov was the chief conductor and artistic director of the ensemble for the next 40 years. He added choreographed dance numbers to the performance of the four-part male choir and transformed it into the 200-artist Alexander Alexandrov Red Army Song and Dance Ensemble, named after his father. The ensemble, the first of its kind, was later imitated by many other small choir-and- dance groups in the Soviet Union. Under Boris Alexandrov it performed all over the world and made several appearances in Britain.

Alexandrov also composed several ballets, the best-known being Levsha ('Left-hander', 1954), after Nikolai Leskov's story about a Tula blacksmith. Alexandrov was regarded as the founder of the so- called 'Soviet operetta' genre. He composed music for many operettas, the most popular being his Svadba v Malinovke ('Wedding in Malinovka', 1937).

He also composed many symphonic works, such as his First Symphony (1920), Second Symphony (1930), and Chinese Suite (1953). His other musical works included a piano concerto (1929), woodwind quartets (1932) a clarinet concerto (1936) and a Fantasia for piano and orchestra (1955). In his music he used Ukrainian and Spanish themes. Stalin adored the ensemble and would invite it to perform for him and his foreign guests at the Kremlin Concert Hall. When in 1950 he was reading out the names of the winners of the Stalin Prize, Stalin himself added Alexandrov to the list. Alexandrov was also twice awarded the Order of Lenin. In 1964 a book was published in Moscow about him and his ensemble.

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