Яблочко – Yablochko – Jablotschko

Fugue in A minor: “Little Apple” – “Das Äpfelchen”

The Russian Sailor’s Dance for Organ:

Yoblochko pic

2018 has been a dry year for me compositionally. Inspiration comes and goes. But what I deem one of my crowning achievements is the piece I completed this year – writing this currently in November, it is the only piece I’ve completed this year.

The roots of this piece lies in my time still in Bayreuth, where I completed my Bachelor of Music. The lutheran Stadtkirche was receiving a special guest for one particular Sunday: the Bishop of the evang.-luth. church in Moskow, and I had the privilege of playing. To find some inspiration, I found several folk and popular tunes on Youtube, but the most striking discovery of the evening was the performance of some dancers performing a tune popularly known in Russia. The video in itself was amazing to watch, but the music even more astonishing; to know that I’ve been oblivious to an entire culture of amazing Russian music.

The melody originates from the ballet Красный Мак (“The Red Poppy”) from Reinhold Moritzevich Glière, a Russian composer of German and Polish descent. Within the ballet it is actually entitled “Dance of the Sailors of the Soviet Ship”. The title “Little Apple” and the rest of the various lyrics were given to the tune during the Russian Civil War and have no connection with the tune’s original source.

I began this piece just like any other fugue of mine: usually there’s a spark of motivation, but my composer’s mentality is very boring: I appreciate Bach, I love counterpoint, and I’ve restricted my views of composition to a box of rules and limitations. I barely made it past 50 measures (halfway through a development) when I became bored; unsure how to proceed, how to fix what traps I’d fallen into, how to break from the stagnant repetition of timbre. Here came the first huge pause in the writing process.

At some point I recalled something said to me by Dr. Sarah Schmalenberger, professor at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, where I worked as a vocal accompanist or many years. She and I were discussing famous works and she relayed a brilliant truth: all of the great works of famous composers are those that bring something new, even if they’re composed within the composer’s style; the great fugues of Bach are not (necessarily) “textbook” fugues. With this wisdom mind, I decide to take my fugue in a different direction: I’ve hit writer’s block? Let’s mimic the original work and throw in some variations.

Theme and Variations is a “style” that I’ve not explored very much, and I don’t know why. But this was the influence I needed to keep going: to keep things different, to change the timbre, the tempo, the pace, the colors, the registers. From utilizing the string registers to a flashy obligato soprano line, from a manuals-only variation to one that is practically an etude for the pedals; finding my way through modulations and styles, I finally bring the piece to its climax; a Neapolitan chord in B-flat Major and slide back into A minor. The development now complete, and onward to the end.

The piece, with several long pauses in the process, took about one year to complete, which is for me somewhat embarrassing. But I’m proud of it, I enjoy playing it, and despite its difficulty I hope that others can appreciate it too, even from just a musical theory perspective. It was premiered on 18 May, 2018 at Pilgrim Congregational Church in Duluth, Minnesota, and the European premiere was during my first concert in Munich Cathedral (München Frauenkirche) on 11 July, 2018.

The video of the Munich recording of this piece can be found here.


Organs come in different sizes

Baptism in Kloster Knechtsteden, Dormagen (06. October, 2018)


I’m certainly no stranger to traveling about and playing a service by special request (directly hired by a couple for a wedding or by the parents for a baptism). In a way it’s kind of fun, to use the opportunity to get out, explore new places where one doesn’t normally go or might not normally play. One such opportunity came to me: to play a baptism in Kloster Knechtsteden, which is apparently a fairly well known place within Nordrhein-Westfalen (but I hadn’t heard of it until then). Above you see pictures of the main Baroque gate, the main sanctuary, and the organ located on the side of the church. Sadly I didn’t take more pictures of the outside, but it’s a lovely location – complete with its own brand beer, Knechtstedener Schwarze, at the restaurant near the entrance!

Baptisms – as well as weddings – are always a gamble in terms of whether the congregation are active singers or not. Regardless of that, generally there’s only a handful of music that is generally chosen, so none of the songs that were chosen by the parents beforehand had concerned me (except “Ins Wasser fällt ein Stein”, but that’s to be discussed in a different blog.) What can however give any organist more of a challenge is the need to spontaneously adjust to whichever instrument they are subject to in a foreign church. Are the pedals old Baroque and widely spaced? Is the mechanical action unreasonably difficult to play? What is the distribution of the registers and where do I find them? Are all the reeds currently tuned?

I arrived reasonably early in order to get a quick glimpse at the organ. Unless I’m playing a concert, I don’t need too much time to become acquainted with the instrument, especially when one rarely needs the heavier registers (mixtures, reeds, etc.) for smaller services. I met the parents at the church and they led me inside. I was originally surprised to play in such a large space for a small service, so I was very curious about the instrument. We walked along the side, we came to the organ – which was somewhat smaller that I expected, but OK – but then they kept walking. Then we turned left and came to a small chapel in the front corner of the church, which caught me completely by surprise:


Despite the performance “handicap”, the parents were both very pleased with the overall playing (even though we skipped one song because the pastor rushed over it). One thing is for sure: traveling and playing certainly isn’t boring. The best part? I created my first meme from the situation:

Kloster Knechtsteden


Schräges Spiel

Konzert in der Schlosskirche an der Universität Bonn, 10. November 2018

Eine schöne Erfahrung an diesem Samstag Abend. Auf dem Programm stand einige Werke von Heinrich Schütz, Te Deum von Anton Bruckner, und Kantate 105 von Johann Sebastian Bach (“Herr, gehe nicht ins Gericht”). Für mich war es eine echte Freude, da ich seit schon lange die Tenor-Aria aus der Kantate, “Kann ich nur Jesum mir zum Freunde machen” von einer Aufnahme kannte und sie ist eine meiner Lieblingsarien geworden. Aber bisher habe ich nie gespielt. Es war auch schön, meinen ersten Auftritt (außer Trauungen) in der Schlosskirche zu machen.


Die Kantate ging relativ problemlos, trotz ein paar Pfeifen wurden der Orgel ausgezogen, da die zu verstimmt waren (zum Beispiel, kleines c). Aber die anstrengendste Sachen waren tatsächlich Te Deum und das Schütz-Stück für Doppelchor, da beide Werke wurden nicht nur mit Orchester gespielt, sondern musste ich auch von der Hauptorgel (auf die Empore, wo ich das Bild vom Chor genommen habe) spielen.

Bis jetzt hatte ich nur einmal eine ähnliche Konzerterfahrung (Chor vorne unten, ich hinten oben), aber bei dieser Orgel war das Spiegel ziemlich nutzlos, da es so klein ist und ich nur meinen dicken Kopf sehen konnte. Meine Lösung? Ich habe einen Notenständer an der Seite des Orgelbanks gestellt, um seitwärts zu schauen. Damit konnte ich einem Blick halbwegs nach Vorne haben und gleichzeitig spielen, wo ich mindestens den Dirigent aus dem Augenwinkel sehen konnte. Es hat super funktioniert, obwohl hat ein bisschen gedauert, daran zu gewöhnen.


Limerick, Ireland (Deutsch)

Konzertreise nach Limerick, Irland

Konzertdatum: 12. September, 2018

Meine erste Reise nach Irland war, wie jeder Reise nach fremder Ort, eine Abenteuer und eine Lehrerfahrung. Diese schöne Auftrittsgelegenheit war in St. Mary’s Cathedral, Organist Peter Barley. Er hat mich eingeladen, da dieses Jahr die 850. Jubiläum der Kirche gibt und das Konzert fand innerhalb einer Konzertreihe der Limerick Pipe Organ Festival.

Die Orgel, obwohl ziemlich groß vom ersten Blick, hat schon einige Schwierigkeiten und braucht in nächster Zeit einige Reparaturen – einige Registern funktionieren nicht oder brauchen etwas Zeit anzusprechen, einige Töne bleiben hängen oder gar nicht sprechen… aber es gibt doch wirklich schöne Klänge, die man rausziehen kann. Mehr Information steht im 6. Bild.


  1. Andrew Tessman: Fuge a-Moll (Jablotschko / Яблочко)
  2. Josef Rheinberger: Trios #2 (C-Dur) und #9 (G-Dur) aus 10 Trios, op. 56
  3. Louis Vierne: Cathédrales (aus Pièces de Fantasie)
  4. Ralf Grössler: Das Licht macht Lebendig (2. Satz aus Orgelmeditationen über die Schöpfungsgeschichte)
  5. Hubert Parry: Fantasie und Fuge G-Dur


  1. Kirche (Südseite von Außen)
  2. Orgel: Pfeifenhaus und Spieltisch
  3. Blick in der Kirche nach Vorne (Hochalter)
  4. Fenster am Südseite (detaillierte kleiner Vorbilder von Bibelgeschichten)
  5. Blick zum Hinten in der Kirche
  6. Besonderes Informationsblatt zur Orgel.