Slavyanka Chorus - An Introduction

Slavyanka is a men's a cappella chorus based in San Francisco, California, and made up of amateur musicians from varied professions, including computer programmers, scientists, lawyers, and businessmen. The musical demands placed on the Chorus are quite high both because of technical content of the music and the nearly four octave range often required to sing it. We perform most of our music in Russian, though most of us do not speak Russian. Our chorus consists of 25 singers united by a common interest in the choral music of the peoples of Russia and Eastern Europe. Over the years we have compiled an enviable record of achievement some of which is described below.

History and Description: Slavyanka takes its name from the name given by early 19th century Russian colonists to the river near their settlement on the California coast just north of the San Francisco Bay Area (the river now known as the Russian River). It was formed in 1979 by a group of former Yale Russian Chorus members along with others interested in singing Russian music. Paul Andrews, a former Yale Russian Chorus participant, became the founding director and continued in that capacity until 1991 when he resigned. After a search, the chorus hired Alexei Shipovalnikov, a then recent emigre from Moscow, who directed the chorus from 1991 through June, 1997. From July, 1997 until December 2011, Slavyanka's Music Director was Gregory A. Smirnov, formerly music director in Pskov, Russia. Since June of 2012, Slavyanka is led by Irina Shachneva, formerly of Boston.

Slavyanka performs fifteen to twenty concerts a year, mixing a repertoire of secular (from folk to classical) and sacred music. Presently a typical concert will consist of about twenty pieces from a current repertoire of thirty to forty pieces. Our concert audiences have been consistently struck by the rich and unusual tonalities of this musical tradition.

Slavyanka initially drew its repertoire from the Yale Russian Chorus, but over the years it has developed additional sources for its music including music from the Don Cossacks repertoire and from the archives of Alexei Shipovalnikov. We have also premiered works of contemporary Russian composers.

Tours: In 1986 and again in 1990, we were invited performers at the Western Regional Conventions of the American Choral Directors Association, where we received standing ovations.

Slavyanka toured the former U.S.S.R. in 1986 and again in 1989. During our first tour, we were the first American chorus ever invited to sing in Leningrad's (now St. Petersburg's) historic M.I. Glinka Kapella Hall and over 900 Soviet choral musicians gave us their standing ovation. Other highlights from that tour included singing for the Catholicos (the head of the Armenian Church) near Yerevan, Armenia, and joint concerts with Georgian and other Russian choirs.

During our second tour we performed sold-out concerts in Moscow, Kiev, Leningrad, and Vladimir. Our first Leningrad performance was a return visit to the Kapella which was followed by a sell-out performance at the Grand Philharmonic Symphony Hall, the U.S.S.R.'s equivalent of America's Carnegie Hall.

Plans are now underway for a tour of Moscow, St. Petersburg, Pskov, Helsinki and either Paris or Amsterdam, scheduled for May, 1999 to coincide with the bicentennial celebrations of the birth of the poet A.V. Pushkin.

Recordings: We have released four recordings and all have been well received. In addition there are presently plans to release a fifth and to record a sixth. Slavyanka is also featured in other recordings.

Our first recording was made in 1984 and contains a mix of sacred and secular pieces. We have sold it almost exclusively at concerts.

The second was released in 1988 and is a recording in honor of the Millennium of the Russian Orthodox Church (988 to 1988) containing a selection of liturgical pieces. It was later licensed to Harmonia Mundi who released it under its own label. It has sold about 40,000 copies worldwide to date.

Our third ("Russia - Old & New") and final recording with music director Paul Andrews includes a mix of sacred and secular music, and is sold at concerts and distributed through various retail outlets in the San Francisco area.

Slavyanka's fourth recording, the first with Alexei Shipovalnikov, was produced by Harmonia Mundi and premiered a setting of the Russian Liturgy of St John Chrysostom by Konstantin Shvedov. It has sold about 6,000 copies worldwide.

Our fifth recording is finished but not yet released. It is an SATB setting of the Russian Orthodox Vespers Service by Alexei Shipovalnikov for which a number of women singers joined us to perform and record the piece.

A sixth recording is being planned for fall of 1998 and will feature primarily secular music, both folk and classical.

Slavyanka also provided some of the music for the PBS documentary Spirit of a People, A New Portrait of Russia and for the movies Tell Me a Riddle and Little Odessa. The latter was released as a soundtrack in 1995 on the Phillips label. In the summer of 1997, Slavyanka performed on camera for the Robin Williams' 1998 release, What Dreams May Come, a rendition of Schnittke's "Jesus Prayer" arranged by our music director, Gregory Smirnov.

Other Special Events: In 1986 Slavyanka participated in a special performance to help Armenian earthquake victims, and in 1989 participated in a Soviet benefit to help San Francisco earthquake victims (put on in Moscow while we were on tour).

During the 80s the chorus participated in a number of "people to people" and "choral exchange" type concerts with choruses from the U.S.S.R.

In 1988 the chorus temporarily expanded to over 100 male and female singers and presented the Rachmaninov Vespers in San Francisco and in Palo Alto.

In 1990 the chorus sang for then Russian President Mikhial Gorbachev when he visited San Francisco.

Technical and Other Details: Slavyanka is a tax exempt (non profit) corporation governed by a board of directors which meets at least four times a year. Directors are chosen by the board and include chorus singers as well as outside persons. The chorus' annual budget is approximately $30,000.

The music director is paid as a permanent, part-time employee of the chorus with a salary set by the Board. Most work, except for that of the Music Director, is carried out by volunteers both within and outside the chorus, though the Chorus pays outside services for work such as recording and grant writing.

Music is performed in the native languages with transliterations from cyrillic text. Singers are encouraged to memorize the repertoire, but it is not a requirement at this time (though it has been at other times). Singers are also encouraged to seek outside voice training, and a number of them do.

Rehearsals are every Tuesday in San Francisco from 7:30 to 10:00 pm with an occasional extra rehearsal as needed.

Slavyanka does not charge dues but actively solicits charitable donations from its singers and from the public at large.

Slavyanka also maintains a World Wide Web site ( ) containing other information about the chorus and upcoming concerts.