Nicholas II Choir
The Nicholas II Choir is a men’s ensemble based in New York City, dedicated to performing Russian liturgical and secular music. The choir in its current configuration was founded in 2017 – the 100th anniversary of the fateful events of 1917: the Russian Revolution and the abdication of Nicholas II, Russia’s last Emperor. The choir’s name reflects that connection.
The Revolutions of 1917, the abdication of the Tsar, and the subsequent Civil War sent untold numbers of Russians into exile. The ensemble is the direct inheritor of the religious and cultural traditions of these first emigres. Most members of the choir are of Russian, Ukrainian, or Belorussian descent. All members are Russian Orthodox, most speak Russian, and all hold Orthodoxy, and Russian culture and music dear to their hearts. The choir therefore views as its mission the preservation of old Russian traditions, and the maintenance of newer ones developed outside of Russia throughout the 20th and 21st centuries.
This commitment is reflected in the choir’s chosen repertoire; alongside folk songs and compositions of many celebrated Russian composers of the 18th-20th centuries are works written by Russian emigres and their descendants. The choir also works actively among the youth to keep these traditions and this music alive for posterity.
The group’s efforts in youth education are the result of the choir’s history. While the choir in its current form dates back to 2017, the ensemble traces its history to a mixed choir founded in 2015 as the musical arm of the Prince Vladimir Youth Association, an organization with ties to the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia dedicated to connecting and uniting Russian youth abroad.
Shortly after its foundation, the St. Vladimir Youth Choir held its debut performance on St. Thomas Sunday in 2015 at St. Vladimir Memorial Church in Jackson New Jersey – a church dedicated to the 1,000-year anniversary of the Baptism of the Russian people. After several more performances in 2015, the choir went on its first international tour in 2016 visiting Kiev and other Ukrainian cities. The choir sang services and performed concerts in the Kiev Caves Lavra, the Pochaev Lavra, Holy Ascension Monastery outside of Chernovtsy, and several venues in Kiev. Though the group was made up of amateurs, the choir was praised for its high level of professionalism and the spirituality of its singing.
In 2017, not long after the Ukrainian tour, in recognition of the maturity of the choir’s members, the choir left the St. Vladimir Youth Association and began its independent existence as the St. Nicholas II Choir. At this time, the decision was also made by the group to transform itself into a men’s choir.
2017 also saw the group’s first trip to the Russian Federation. The group toured St. Petersburg, singing the Divine Liturgy in St. Isaac’s Cathedral, and at the Trinity Cathedral of the city’s St. Alexander Nevsky Lavra, and performing several concerts. One of these concerts was held in the hall of the St. Petersburg Theological Academy. On more than one occasion, people who heard the choir perform asked what part of Russia the choir was from, not believing that such a choir could come from the United States.
Also in 2017 the choir had its first experience of the warm hospitality of the Serbian people. In connection with the celebrations surrounding the canonization of St. Mardarije of Libertyville, the organizers of the event invited the St. Nicholas II Choir to sing the All-Night Vigil, led by His Holiness Patriarch Irinej of blessed memory.
Born in Serbia, in 1907 St. Mardarije moved to Russia and became a student at the same St. Petersburg Theological Academy at which the St. Nicholas II Choir would perform 110 years later. Through his education in Russia, St. Mardarije grew to love Russian culture and music, and it was decided by the organizers of the celebrations to include a Russian choir in the festivities. The singers were honored to participate in the services honoring St. Mardarije, and were touched by the friendliness and hospitality of their hosts.
Since 2017 the St. Nicholas II Choir has performed in the U.S. In 2019 the choir hosted another Russian men’s choir based in Australia, singing several joint concerts and services. Naturally, the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly diminished the choir’s activities, but the ensemble still meets to sing services in New York, and once conditions allow it, the group looks forward to begin traveling and giving concerts once again.
The St. Nicholas II Choir is conducted by Adrian Fekula. Like all of the singers, Adrian is an amateur. He works in finance full-time, but studied music in high school and college, having studied conducting under Professor David Harris at the College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts, where he was also the assistant conductor of the college choir. Adrian currently serves as the assistant conductor of the Metropolitan’s Choir of the Cathedral of the Sign in New York City – the center of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.