Mourners gathered Sunday outside the Moscow headquarters of the Alexandrov Ensemble to honor the victims of a plane crash that killed 94 people including 60 male members of the ensemble, better known internationally as the Red Army Choir.
The official choir of the Russian armed forces was on its way to an air base in Syria to entertain troops celebrating the new year.
“Today we are in the shock of the catastrophe in which our [colleagues] of the Alexandrov Choirs and Dances disappeared,” said Gen. Viktor Eliseev, conductor and director of the Red Army Choir.
Founded in 1929 by prominent composer Aleksandr V. Aleksandrov, the choir had its origins during the Soviet era and today consists of an orchestra, dance ensemble and choir.
The New York Times reported that Aleksandrov’s grandson, Yevgeny, told a Russian news website that “the best members of the ensemble died.”
“All the best soloists, the whole choir,” he said. “Everything will collapse now, the best ones are gone.”
Reports said Viktor Yeliseyev, head of a rival choir representing the Russian National Guard, said "most singers of the choir have died.''
The military choir is one of two Russian orchestras allowed to use the tittle “Red Army Choir,” the New York Times said.
According to the choir's official website, Eliseev has conducted the ensemble in at least 7,000 performances for 20 million people in more than 50 countries, including famous concert halls in China, Japan, Korea, Australia, Germany and France.
The ensemble has a military body of 400 artists including musicians, singers and dancers, of whom 50 have received the supreme title of Emeritus Artist of Russia, the website reports.
“All members of the Red Army Chorus MVD of the Russian National Guard join me in expressing their friendship to the families of the members of the Alexandrov Ensemble and the families of all the victims of this tragedy and to address our feelings to them more affectionate in this dramatic moment,” Eliseev said.
In 2014, the choir sang “Get Lucky” by the French electronic group Daft Punk at the Sochi Winter Olympic Games, creating an Internet hit. In the same year, the group recorded a video cover of “Happy” by American singer-songwriter Pharrell Williams.
They performed for Pope John Paul II in Rome, and at the swearing-in ceremonies for Russian presidents Boris Yeltsin and then Vladimir Putin.
Every year, the choir participates in the country’s official May 9 parade celebrating Russia’s victory in World War II.
They have also recorded three music videos and participated in at least 20 prime-time TV shows.
“Not only were they our colleagues, but a very important military art company,” Eliseev said.
The Russian Defense Ministry said the military plane crashed in the Black Sea shortly after taking off from the resort town of Sochi.
Officials said debris from the aircraft and some bodies have been found just off the Russian coast. The main section of the plane has been located 1.5 kilometers off the coast at a depth of about 70 meters.
President Vladimir Putin declared Monday as a national day of mourning.