Just in: Putin ordered Red Army Ensemble to Aleppo

Just in: Putin ordered Red Army Ensemble to Aleppo


norman lebrecht

December 25, 2016

It has emerged that the doomed Alexandrov Ensemble, which perished in today’s Black Sea crash, was on its way to perform a ‘liberation’ concert in the destroyed Syrian city of Aleppo.

President Putin has declared a day of mourning.

It has also been confirmed that the chief conductor of Russia’s military ensembles, General Valery Khalilov, was among the victims of the disaster.



  • Gregor Tassie says:

    Looks like another indulging in blame of Putin in what is a tragic day for musicians everywhere. The choir has actually performed several times in Syria and going there for the choir was a seasonal festive event for the Russians serving in Syria. What a disgrace that you make this into something anti-Russian and political. What level are you prepared to descend to in your anti-Russian politics?

    • Mark says:

      Gregor, I’m afraid that it is Putin and not Mr Lebrecht who makes arts political. Gergiev performing in Palmyra, or next to POW camps for Georgians in South Ossetia, Gergiev performing a concert with Sino-Russian Youth Orchestra and starting the year of Sino-Russian cultural collaboration just after the takeover of Crimea to get the Chinese support, Gasprom supported Baltic Youth Philharmonic lobbying for the ecologically and politically controversial Nordstream project (http://www.baltic-course.com/eng/energy/?doc=58831). Putin is just counting on “useful idiots” in Western Europe who will fall for his bluff, i.e. doing some dirty politics behind the facade of seemingly benevolent artistic events.

  • MacroV says:

    Performing for the troops is of course a common activity in many countries’ militaries, and the plane crash is a great tragedy, but it’s a fair question to ask what exactly is being “celebrated” in Aleppo.

    • Gregor Tassie says:

      Have anyone considered that music helps dialogue, it is Christmas day after all but Mr Lebrecht seems to have forgotten about this….

      • Mark says:

        Gregor – in Nazi concentration camps music was played by prisoners and to prisoners. Didn’t help much any dialogue. Music is a tool that can be used to promote both benevolent and malevolent ideas. That’s why Toscanini once refused to perform the fascist “Giovinezza” and he was beaten for that. Let’s not be naive.

        • Gregor Tassie says:

          I don’t need to be patronised by you in such an arrogant manner. I am afraid you have a rather warped view of the role of politics and the arts, it is all down to opinion as is everything in arts and society. it also comes down to basic human values. The music tells its own truths and your views are based on a rather outdated legend that everything the west does is right. Christmas is a day to celebrate what we have and music can help bring peace and joy however shortlived it may be. The Alexandrov Choir were going there to help relief the soldiers serving there and there is no shame in that.

          • Larry W says:

            The 400,000 people killed in Aleppo will have no relief or dialogue. Neither will the 80,000 displaced. Is that your idea of human values, Gregor? Shame on you.

          • tati says:

            Gregory I so agree with you! thank you for your comments!

          • Mark says:

            I would appreciate if you could indicate at which point what I said was arrogant or patronising. Unlike you, I didn’t attack you personally, I didn’t even use “you” in anything I wrote. But yes, I do have some specific knowledge of the subject that we are discussing. I had members of my family imprisoned or killed in both German concentration camps and Russian gulags, I was involved in organising concerts of Western music in Russian occupied territories, I organised artistic projects that would bring together musicians from countries who are at war with each other, did a lot of research on musicians who defected from former communist countries and who were grinding their teeth seeing how naive the approach of ISCM was for years when trying to disconnect music from politics while USSR, Nazi Germany, fascist Italy or Chavez’s Venezuela were skilfully using arts to promote their political agendas. Start with reading biographies of composers such as Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Panufnik to get some proper knowledge before you start attacking people who spent years studying the subject.

            And of course Russia will say it was a terrorist attack. There is much more political capital to be gained from that than saying that it was just negligence, pure accident or someone’s incompetence that led to that tragedy. They will probably even blame it on Georgia. The Abkhazia is so close.

          • Dr. ronald Carlson says:

            So, the choir was going to entertain the war criminals who mercilessly and systematically destroyed hospitals and shelters, massacred thousands of innocent civilians and essentially bombed Aleppo into the Stone Age? Is this the true purpose of art? How is it any different from German artists who entertained Nazi troops on the Eastern front during WWII?

        • Larry W says:

          Thank you, Mark, for your contributions here and in the world of music.

          • Keith sleeman says:

            Mainstream American/European propoganda states that Assad is murdering his people again, same as was used to justify the invasion and destruction of a peaceful and religiously highly tolerant country (please do some research dont just believe what your media wants you to believe). This is propaganda to hide the fact that ISIS has been armed and funded by USA, Saudi Arabia, Israel, etc.) and is part of a plan to bring down Assad, who refused to let them run an oil pipeline through his country. With Russia’s help, ISIS has been chased out if Aleppo. No wonder the people are celebrating. .

    • James says:

      Liberated from the scourge of Isis.

    • George Porter says:

      what exactly is being “celebrated” in [east] Aleppo?

      Liberation from death-loving jihadists, according to the residents of the rest of Aleppo.

  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    The Russian Orthodox Christmas is not until the beginning of January.
    Today is just another day in Russia.

    • Jonathan says:

      Yes, however the local Orthodox Church in Aleppo celebrates Christmas today (December 25th). This is a fact that is well known to Russians.

  • Rich C. says:

    Just sitting here waiting for the first “I guess Trump won’t have any music now at his inauguration” comment.

  • Alex Klein says:

    One-sided views will never help the situation. We in the West are bombarded senseless from the media with a particular view that no matter what happens, Putin and Russia are evil (China is not too far) and the Western countries are somehow godly. When we look at cold facts we see that such exaggerations and tendencies only bring us closer to conflict and don’t solve anything.

    Aleppo and Syria are horror stories. Did Russia do it alone? No. We all know this was a proxy war because the West didn’t like Bashar-Al-Assad. Why does the same West accept Saudi Arabia (other than oil) is beyond my comprehension. Yet Syria is an independent country, and as such it has the legal right (don’t scream yet) to procure its internal safety, including counting on external help, in this case Iran and Russia. On the other side there are countries fueling Rebels to potentially topple Assad. Who is to blame? The result is Aleppo, and everything indicates that city was doing quite well before Rebels “somehow” got a hold of weapons.

    Crimea bothers you? Talk to me about Puerto Rico. Or Hawaii. Guam?

    The Russian love affair with the arts runs deep and wide. Symphonies, composers, theaters, ballet, by the dozens, they breathe art. And for those of us who have been there, they are also wonderful, lovely people, in spite of what Western media likes to feed us. It is no surprise they will send choirs and bands to play at the front, no different than in the West we see Bob Hope and Gary Sinise doing just about the same.

    If there is anything MUSIC should be teaching us, is that our musician colleagues died yesterday on a quest to do good with what we do, to bring hope and happiness wherever. If we see the world away from a militaristic and political – and often silly and and questionable – divisions, the world is not such a bad place. We musicians should be rooting for peace, not war.

    • Gregor Tassie says:

      Thank you for your comment and is nice to see at least two other people who share common sense and are not still fighting the ‘cold war’ and trying to profit from war. music is to bring peace not warfare.

    • Mark says:

      Alex – two points:
      1. Both sides have some dirty secrets. True. But talking about them openly in Russia can cost you your life. And that’s the difference.
      2. What kind of “good” were the members of the choir bringing to Syria? What kind of hope and happiness, when they were not to perform for the civilian victims of the bombing but for the people who were bombing them?

      • TIMOTHY M. says:

        I have read all your comments. Aside from the political views one solid fact remains: The choir were on its way to entertain war criminals who deliberately bombed hospitals, schools etc., caused thousands of civilian deaths. It looks like a celebration of massacre rather than a moral concert. Music is not independent of where it is used. Please stop treating it as a holy action.

    • Dr. Ronald Carlson says:

      “Crimea bothers you? Talk to me about Puerto Rico. Or Hawaii. Guam?”

      To me, this statement trumps any of the bonkers statements that Donald Trump makes in his endless tweets!

    • D Anderson says:

      My wife and I had the opportunity to travel to Russia last year. We studied Russian history to get some better context for what we’d be seeing and hearing. We came away feeling that if BOTH governments just backed off and stopped all the rhetoric, the people’s would get along great. We were treated graciously, and we made every effort to reciprocate. Of course there are differences in culture and values, but a true appreciation for the arts exists, and the survival of those treasures through the revolutions is not just because of their value on the market–they also are containers of national pride.

      • MacroV says:

        Of course there are many lovely people in Russia, and their arts scene is amazing. Not relevant to Putin having sent in his military to support Assad in his genocidal campaign to keep himself in power at whatever cost.

        To say “both governments” is to apply a false equivalence to what Russia is up to these days – illegal seizure of Crimea, interference in Eastern Ukraine, widespread support of extremist movements in Europe, state-sponsored doping in sports, the war in Syria that has created the greatest refugee crisis in Europe since WW II and much to Russia’s delight caused all sorts of disharmony in the EU – and…I’m not sure what by the US.

        The tragedy in my view is Putin having called the fall of the Soviet Union the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century, and promoting a narrative of a great humiliation for Russia because of the empire it lost, followed by the US and other western powers further humiliating and threatening Russia through NATO and EU expansion. Actually, many of us in the West saw it as the liberation of good people from a horrible system. Which is how the Poles, Czechs, Balts and others saw it as they couldn’t run fast enough from the Warsaw Pact to the EU and NATO.

        The plane crash is a horrible tragedy and we should all mourn the deaths of those on board. But that doesn’t mean we should overlook just what event they were being sent to help celebrate.

  • Reuben says:

    Left needs to accept they lost and respect the people.

    • paukenschlager oder timbalist says:

      Respect what people?

    • William Safford says:

      Tell us, how should the left “accept they lost and respect the people.”

      Should they do so exactly the way the right “accepted” and “respected” President Obama and the Elections between 2008 and 2014?

      Should the left make its mission in Congress to oppose the President-Elect in everything at every turn?

      Should the left’s number one mission in Congress be to deny the President-Elect a second term?

      Should the left, as soon as it gains power in state capitols, start suppressing the vote of white conservatives and stripping Democrats of their executive powers?

      Should the left disenfranchise large swaths of the population through gerrymandering, thereby creating majorities in the House of Representatives, and in state legislatures,with a minority of the popular vote (thus both preceding and echoing the results of this year’s Presidential election)?

      Should the left block the vote in the Senate of the next Supreme Court nominee, in violation of the “advise and consent” provision of the Constitution? Should the left also block votes on hundreds of other Federal judges and other positions?

      Should the left *really* behave exactly the same way as the right has done for years now?

      Should the left paint Hitler mustaches on the President Elect’s face and emblazon it on Nazi swastikas?

      Should the left accuse the President-Elect of racism?

      Oh, wait, he and his father were successfully sued for racial discrimination in the rental policies in their housing in Queens and Brooklyn, forcing them to settle on the government’s terms:


      Should the left invent an entire edifice of lies, as the right has systematically done? Or will the truth be damning enough? It hasn’t been thus far, but what else is yet to emerge?

      Oh, there is at least one way in which the President-Elect cannot be delegitimized in the same way as the right worked to try to delegitimize President Obama; after all, the President-Elect is white. Racist slurs and false accusations of the President-Elect being a secret Muslim born in Kenya won’t work.

      The President-Elect, OTOH, was gleeful in his racist attacks on President Obama over the last eight years.

      Then again, the President-Elect admitted with his own words his joy in groping women:


      Think about it.

      As for this sad loss of life, how would others react if, say, members of the President’s Own (U.S. Army Band) were to perish in a plane crash? I suppose there would be glee from such sources as ISIS and North Korea, but I hope there would be condolences from most other sources, including Russia.

      I hope such commentary would be more charitable than some of the commentary that I have read here and elsewhere about the Russian plane crash.

      Whatever else may be happening in the world, Russia just lost a planeful of people.

      Pertinent to this blog, Russia just lost dozens of musicians.

      My condolences to their families.

      • M2N2K says:

        To the “should the left” questions, the obvious answer is — of course not! Since all leftists are so impeccably saintly, they would be incapable of behaving as horribly as those evil rightists are, even if they tried. No, since they are so amazingly wonderful all of them should treat the incoming administration as incredibly nicely and with the same unfailing respect as they did the previous Republican one during the first eight years of this century.

  • Fred Obelisk says:

    This is very bad.

    Australian news just reported that a possible terrorism link is again being considered.

    The power of music to rally human emotions, and the national symbolism associated with groups such as the Red Army Ensemble is making them targets. Is this effect increasing over time?

    And none are safe.
    In the internet age, profiling of listener’s musical preferences is increasingly being used to identify political affiliation, by both marketers and political parties.

    Both performers and listeners may need to be increasingly cautious about what they perform and listen to, particularly in politically charged situations.

    Russia eyes terror link in plane crash

    Political campaigns targeting you online

    Pandora uses listeners’ music preferences to help target political advertising
    Read more: http://dailycaller.com/2014/02/19/pandora-uses-listeners-music-preferences-to-help-target-political-advertising/#ixzz4TsCSQ2j9

    11 Unbelievably Specific Facebook Audiences You Can Target

  • Peter Phillips says:

    This may not be relevant but the TU154 is a very old aircraft, roughly contemporary with the Trident in UK and remarkably similar to it. I think Aeroflot stopped using them a few years ago and I’m surprised that the Russian military still do.

    • Mark says:

      NB Tu 154 was exactly the same type of aircraft that crashed near Smolensk 6 years ago killing many leading Polish politicians (including the president and one of the leading opposition candidates for the forthcoming presidential elections) and generals.

      • Gregor Tassie says:

        Twenty-five comments appeared following my original comment, strange its the same number of years since the USSR collapsed and it seems too that people are so divided about Russia as they were 25 years ago. Perhaps it is no longer ideology but basic human values that divide us now. It is also a case of believing what suits you best. Russia is today in the front-line fighting terrorism something which our own UK government cannot do, and of course the USA still thinks it is deemed to rule the world. A fact that some forget to mention that apart from the musicians on board the TU 154 was a lady called Dr Liza in Russia for her humanitarian activities trying to save children from the atrocities of war. My all those who died yesterday rest in peace.

        • Peter Phillips says:

          She is mentioned on the BBC news website, which appears to be a comprehensive report with appropriate background to her and the musicians. For some reason, though, BBC Radio 3 (the classical music channel) referred only to “passengers and crew”. No mention that this was one of Russia’s principal music ensembles.

  • AL Tru says:

    Putin is singlehandedly stopping WW3. he checkmated Obama from using the fabricated ISIS as an excuse to enter Syria.
    Music is the most powerful form of communication on our planet.
    but sometimes used as a political tool….
    ” Onward Christian Soldiers “

  • M2N2K says:

    There is no truly “good” or fully “right” side in this conflict of competing massacres. One would have to be deaf and blind to pretend otherwise.

  • Larry W says:

    Politics aside, the Alexandrov Ensemble was the Soviet Union’s premiere performing ensemble. This is a huge cultural loss. RIP.