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The Admiralty Orchestra of the Leningrad Naval Base (Orchestra)

One can say that the idea to start a Navy band came to Peter the Great even before he founded the city of Saint Petersburg. In February 1703, he ordered 29 singers from the Cappella in Moscow to be sent to the Admiralty (Navy Department) to study playing oboe. There are reasons to think that these pupils were later moved to Saint Petersburg when the Admiralty offices were transferred there from Moscow.

The Naval Music, as it was called at a time, accompanied the construction of the principal Admiralty building and construction of the first ships of the Russian fleet. The band consisted of oboes and drums.

The music played was not particularly beautiful and this is why the Tsar ordered practice at 11 in the morning, outside next to the building under construction. The musicians would rehearse and prepare daily for every practice session, as all of them were thus in public.

After the Admiralty offices were completed the concert location was moved to the Admiralty Tower. Concerts became regular and were still performed every morning at 11. Each concert was followed by a canon salute at noon. Both events became tradition in the city.

In February 1711, based on the order of Tsar Peter, the musicians were granted an official title as the Choir of Military Music of the Admiralty Battalion. This order started the tradition of integrating military music "choirs" (as military bands were called at a time) into the structure of the national army and fleet. At the time of Peter the Great, the Admiralty band consisted only of 7 oboists and 10 drummers, though all the wind instrument musicians (except the trumpet players) were then called "oboists".

Until the end of the 18th century, the orchestra musicians would go up the Tower at 11 for their daily performance. The event was regular until the reign of Tsar Paul (1796-1801), who was not so fond of military music to start with and who initiated the reconstruction of the Admiralty building (under architect Adrian Zaharov). Tsar Paul's orders moved the dockyard downstream on the Neva River. The daily concerts at the Tower were "temporarily" stopped .... and were not re-started until the present day.

In 1798, Tsar Paul inaugurated the Institute of Naval Architecture, which became the home of the orchestra for some 200 years.

In 1872, the Institute was transferred to Kronstadt fleet base, just outside of Saint Petersburg. In 1878 Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, who was the first Military and Navy Orchestras Inspector, conducted the orchestra in Kronstadt and performed charity concerts for the benefit of military veterans. Rimsky-Korsakov specially composed his Variations for Oboe, Concerto for Trombone and Concerto for Clarinet for these performances, though the composer seemed to be not quite satisfied with the last one and did not have it performed.

After the events of 1917, the Institute was reorganized and became the base of the Engineering School of the Red Fleet. The School was moved back to Saint Petersburg and into the Admiralty building. The orchestra also came back to its old home, and came to be recognized as one of the best in the Soviet Union.

In 1938 the head conductor and artistic director of the orchestra was Quartermaster-Officer First Class G. Stepanov. From August 1939, he was succeeded by Quartermaster-Officer First Class Semen P. Rotmil (1883-1943), an experienced conductor. In 1940 Maestro Rotmil was succeeded by the remarkable musician Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander I Tsvetkov, who served as leader until 1950. He was followed by Sergei V. Poliansky, who led the orchestra trough the 1950's.

Major Vartan M. Barsegian, a talented composer, served as the head military conductor between 1960 and 1976. This was a legendary period in the Admiralty Band's history and the orchestra became under Maestro Barsegian's leadership the the subject of wide acclaim and fame throughout the Soviet Union. Vartan M. Barsegian also left a remarkable composing heritage. His oeuvre is still in the regular repertoire of the Admiralty Band.

A sad chapter in the orchestra's history started in 1976 when Lieutenant M. Borjkov unexpectedly became the orchestra leader. The orchestra really suffered under his management and only survived thanks to Sub-Lieutenant Nathan V. Idzon, a virtuoso clarinet player and excellent manager who, supported by the musicians, undertook the conducting responsibilities between 1978 and 1985.

Honored Artist of Russia, Alexei Karabanov started as a head conductor in 1985. Since 1991, the Admiralty Band had toured regularly in Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and in the UK. In 1994 the orchestra performed for the visit to Saint Petersburg of Her Majesty Queen Elisabeth II and was granted renewed formal recognition by the President of the Russian Federation.

The Admiralty Band's function and goals are not restricted to its purely military obligations. They have regular concert appearances in different concert halls, popularizing the traditions of the Russian Fleet. The orchestra performs today in the Grand Philharmonic Hall, the Saint Petersburg Cappella, the Hermitage Theatre and the "October" Concert Hall, among many others.

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