Christmas is meant to be a day of celebration. But this morning it’s a little less joyful with the tragic news that 64 members of the Red Army Choir have died in plane crash in the Black Sea.
As Sky News reports, the choir was traveling on board a Russian military plane that came down shortly after take-off from its base near Sochi. The plane was carrying 92 passengers in total. There are no survivors.
The choir was flying to Syria to perform for troops stationed at a Russian military base. Authorities have ruled out terrorism, stating that mechanical failure is likely responsible.
The renowned choir — known formally as the Aleksandraov Ensemble — is the official army choir of the Russian armed forces, and includes a male choir, an orchestra and a dance ensemble.
At Eurovision 2009 they performed as the interval act during the first semi-final, showcasing the best of Russian folk music against a truly magical LED.
Joined by the Moscow Military Music School and the Gipsy Theatre Roman, their performance was punctuated with applause from start to finish, helping set the standard for one of the best-staged editions of Eurovision ever.
Known for performing a wide oeuvre that includes hymns, operatic arias and pop, they provided backing as t.A.T.u. joined them on stage for a performance of “Not Gonna Get Us”.
Officials have confirmed that the group’s conductor Valery Khalilov is among the dead.
Among those expressing grief is Russia’s Eurovision 2016 singer Sergey Lazarev, who took to social media to share his sadness.
In so many ways the choir members have always served as ambassadors for Russian culture, showcasing a different side of a country that the West has, at times, feared.
Significantly, they performed with the Finnish band Leningrad Cowboys in 1993. They symbolised a resurgent Russia and one that would continue to contribute to the world culturally even after the collapse of the Soviet Union. A year later they performed “Sweet Home Alabama” at the 1994 MTV Video Music Awards. Then, as ever, they translated choir music to a broader audience — a legacy that will continue as the choir rebuilds in the years ahead.
Our thoughts and condolences are with the family members impacted by today’s tragedy.