In October 2013, as part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ingria’s (ELCIR) Synod meetings and celebration of their new hymnal, Rev. Dr. Christopher S. Ahlman traveled to Russia to play several organ recitals on Bach’s Leipzig works. Dr. Ahlman participated first in the Synodical Convention; played a lecture recital in Gatchina, Russia; participated in the Day of Music with the gala presentation of the hymnal, which took place on October 19; and then played another recital in Vyborg, Russia on October 20. Finally, Dr. Ahlman gave a lecture at the Seminary of the ELCIR in Koltushi, Russia. Dr. Ahlman’s visit was organized by the LCMS Office of International Mission in Moscow, specifically by Darya Shkurlyatyeva, the Director of Music Ministry, and by Alexey Zubtsov, Translator.
On October 18, Dr. Ahlman offered a musical greeting to the ELCIR convention delegates and members. He played BWV 615 “In Dir ist Freude” on the organ at St. Mary’s Cathedral. Here is the video of Dr. Ahlman’s musical greeting. At the beginning, Darya is introducing the piece to the listeners:
After greeting the convention, he traveled with Darya and Alexey to Gatchina, Russia where he played at St. Nicolaus Lutheran Church. The church has a Johannus electronic organ. There he played a recital entitled Bach: Select Literature from the Leipzig Period, which he also played in Vyborg on October 20. This recital included:
Praeludium et Fuga in h, BWV 544
Kyrie, Gott Vater in Ewigkeit, BWV 669
Christe, aller Welt Trost, BWV 670
Kyrie, Gott heiliger Geist, BWV 671
Kommst du nun, Jesu, vom Himmel herunter auf Erden, BWV 650
Ach bleib bei uns, Herr Jesu Christ, BWV 649
Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, BWV 645
Alexey Zubtsov translated and read the biblical epigraphs before each of the Schübler Chorales on the program. These are based on readings for certain Sundays of the church year.
When the organists at Gatchina and Vyborg were unavailable to assist Dr. Ahlman, Darya, a cellist, found herself turning his pages. She writes:
Therefore, Christopher had to pull the stops heroically on his own as he played Bach’s masterful works. As I stood next to him at the organ, I admired our guest’s top skills…Christopher Ahlman wore a black suit and a pastor’s collar during his recitals, and I think this was the reason I felt I was attending a musical sermon. As he performed one of Bach’s Kyries, I felt as if I were kneeling at the altar rail and Bach were praying next to me. The sound of the chorale melody and the cantus firmus seemed to call to repentance and a private confession. If I hadn’t had to follow the music notation and turn over the pages at the right times, but if I had been in the audience, I think I would have had tears at that moment.
Before the final piece of the recital (the Fugue in Es-Dur from Clavier-Übung III) Dr. Ahlman would speak a short homily. In it he would touch on the difficulties Bach faced in his life (he was orphaned as a boy, he lost his first wife while he was away from home, and of 20 children, only nine lived to adulthood). Dr. Ahlman would then show how Bach took comfort in his Baptism, the Word of God, and the Lord’s Supper throughout all the difficulties of his life. This clinging to faith is evident in his music, both sacred and secular.
On the Day of Music, Dr. Ahlman served as assisting minister in the Matins and Vespers services. As Darya said, “the event received an international dimension when Rev. Dr. Christopher Ahlman…agreed to participate in it.” Also on the Day of Music, Dr. Ahlman gave a lecture recital at St. Mary’s Cathedral in St. Petersburg entitled Bach: Choral Treatments from the Leipzig Period, which was translated into Russian by Alexey Zubtsov. Darya explains why St. Mary’s was an important location: “St. Mary’s Cathedral [had] received a 27-rank Martti Porthan organ a short time before, an organ built in the tradition of Gottfried Silbermann, a German organ master and a friend of Bach’s.” Additionally, St. Mary’s is known for hosting high-caliber recitals and concerts.
The recital in Vyborg, which is near the Finnish border, took place on October 20 at Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral. That morning, at the church service, fellow missionary Rev. Matthew Heise, preached the sermon in Russian.
For this recital, Darya explains:
More than 300 people were gathered for the recital. This is extraordinary for the church in Vyborg whose worship room can normally hold around 150 people. They even had to let some of the listeners to the galleries [balconies] although it’s unadvisable to sit there as the Sts. Peter and Paul church building dating back to 1799 is more than 200 years old, and its beautiful classical columns show cracks in some places.
On the 17th, Darya printed 500 bulletins for all three recitals. By the time they arrived in Vyborg, there were not enough bulletins to go around to every listener. The attendance exceeded the expectations of the Moscow office – praise be to God! Here is Dr. Ahlman playing BWV 669, Kyrie Gott Vater in Ewigkeit and 670 Christe aller Welt Trost.
Following the Vyborg recital, many of those in attendance remained to ask Dr. Ahlman questions. These included teachers from the local music schools for school age children. Darya notes that Dr. Ahlman took about an hour to answer questions and “even did a kind of a master class on Bach’s strokes, explaining how one should touch the organ key to extract a ‘Bach’ sound.”
On the morning of October 21, Dr. Ahlman, Darya, Alexey, and Rev. Heise traveled to the ELCIR’s seminary in Koltushi, Russia. There, Dr. Ahlman gave a special lecture for all of the seminarians (about 20 students), as well as some of the staff and faculty. The lecture was entitled Martin Luther and the Publication of Hymnals. Dr. Ahlman summarizes the lecture in this way:
I resolved to take advantage of the ELCIR’s “Day of Music” and, more specifically, the publication of the ELCIR’s new hymnals, by tracing through Martin Luther’s own prefaces to hymnals published during his lifetime, reflecting upon a strong recurring theme in these prefaces: “Music as Mistress and Governess.” Essentially, Luther personifies the art of music as the mistress of God, who affords God the highest joy and who shirks the devil and his power. Thus, in this way, music functions as a metaphor for none other than Christ Jesus himself. Additionally, Luther personifies music as governess of the human affections, bringing forth a pleasure and delight that is a direct result of the joy that is afforded God. My goal was to encourage the ELCIR seminarians to pursue the best in their future pastoral work in liturgy planning and celebration, so that the true pleasure for both God and man, Christ Jesus, may abound and increase.
After the lecture, Dr. Ahlman played several Bach pieces on the organ for the students, chanting a verse from the corresponding old German choral before he played each piece. These were Kyrie, Gott Vater in Ewigkeit; Christe, aller Welt Trost; and Kyrie, Gott heiliger Geist.
Darya ended her report on Dr. Ahlman’s visit by saying:
Personal contact plays a great role in Russia. People are more willing to work together with those with whom they are acquainted and from whom they know what to expect. Therefore, I thank God that Pastor Ahlman was able to come in contact with so many people, which can turn out useful for his further work together with The Church of Ingria. On October 17, Rev. Ahlman attended the recital of Marina Väisä, chief organist of The Church of Ingria; on October 18, he extended his greetings to the Bishop and the ELCIR’s synodical convention and met Rev. Viktor Vorontsov, head pastor of the church in Gatchina; on October 19, he celebrated matins and vespers together with Rev. Mikhail Ivanov, acting head pastor of St. Mary’s Cathedral; on October 20, he met Rev. Vladimir Dorodni, head pastor of the church in Vyborg; on October 21, he met with Rev. Dr. Alexander Prilutsky, rector of the ELCIR’s seminary.
And of course there was a lot of warm informal contact as Rev. Ahlman was welcomed with hospitality by church members, congregational officers, and local musicians in each location he visited.
Darya, Alexey, and Rev. Matt Heise all worked very hard to make Dr. Ahlman’s visit a success. We are grateful to them for their work on his behalf, but more importantly, on behalf of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Darya closed her report with these verses, which seems appropriate here as well: “So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building” (1 Corinthians 3:7–9 ESV). Darya asks, “Please pray that God may make the seeds of [His] Word sown in the listeners’ hearts during Dr. Ahlman’s recitals, lectures, and conversation, yield a rich harvest!”
- Pray for the continued work of Darya and Alexey in Russia.
- Pray that those who heard the Gospel through sacred music in October would continue in or come to faith in Jesus Christ.
- Consider supporting Rev. Dr. Ahlman by visiting his online giving page.