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Louisville Trumpeter Takes Center Stage At Gheens Great Expectations

Nicholas Recktenwald
Courtesy Kentucky Center for the Arts


Nicholas Recktenwald is a quietly-spoken and decidedly passionate young musician. On Wednesday, Feb. 7, Louisville audiences will see him take center stage in this year’s Gheens Great Expectations Concert — both as a soloist in an orchestral piece and as a member of the jazz quintet that he founded in middle school.

Now a junior at Youth Performing Arts School (YPAS), Nicholas remembers getting his first pocket trumpet when he was four from his father, James Recktenwald, Assistant Principal trumpet player with the Louisville Orchestra. James was soon delighting audiences with his youthful playing.

Nicholas acknowledges the value of growing up in a house that is full of music and musicians, saying it was both “inspiring and loud … [it was] engrained to enjoy the music," and that his parents are supportive of whatever he wants to do in life. He recognizes that not everyone is blessed to have this environment. He’s worked hard and taken advantage when opportunities arose.

He spotted a poster for the National Youth Orchestra at school, and took the initiative to apply. He was accepted into the prestigious program, joining that summer’s NYO2, and studied with members of The Philadelphia Orchestra, leading to a culminating concert at Carnegie Hall, NYC.

Nicholas is already looking at future study, too, reeling off a list of ‘A’ schools for musical study: Julliard, Rice, Curtis, Jacobs School of Music. He’s seeking out either well-respected trumpet instructors or the resources the school has to offer a musician who is committed to both the classical and the jazz worlds.

The quintet, “Spur of the Moment," he created in middle school still has three original members, all now at YPAS. They began playing Dixieland music, and then followed the progression of 20th century music, adding a saxophonist, and now primarily play Jazz. At the concert they’ll play Dizzie Gillespie’s “A Night in Tunisia," arranged by University of Louisville’s Gabriel Evens with the Louisville Orchestra; this is one of the few pieces of jazz written for a full orchestra, so it’s a great opportunity for these young jazz musicians.

The annual Gheens Great Expectations Concert has been a ‘great’ opportunity for eight young international musicians, three of whom are from Louisville.

One former soloist, Laquita Mitchell, said, “Gheens is truly a part of my DNA. I'm so blessed to have been a part of that wonderful experience.”

Kentucky Center for the Arts staffer Jeffrey Jamner curates the Great Expectations concert, working his career-long network in the music world to identify young musicians for this one-time performance. This year, he said, when he mentioned Nicholas’ name to his colleagues, “their faces lit up."

The soloists’ involvement in the Gheens-sponsored concert is more than just a one-concert experience. The concert itself kicks off the statewide Kentucky Music Educators Association annual conference, so the young soloists are playing to 500 all-state musicians. It’s an opportunity for those young musicians to appreciate live music at a very high level — many of them doing so for the first time —and a moment of realization of how high the bar for their profession is.

Additionally the Gheens Great Expectations Concert has an explicitly educational component. All of the soloists are expected to participate in outreach programming with local schools. This year, Nicholas and his Spur of the Moment peers will be going to Lincoln Elementary Performing Arts Schooly and Western Middle School to perform for younger students and talk to them about music.

Jamner and Nicholas both speak passionately about music’s ability to connect – to connect self to the emotion in the music, to help the audience make those connections, the connection that musicians themselves bring to their audiences and through the residencies. We have the opportunity to experience that connection for ourselves during the first week of February.

More information about the Gheens Great Expectations Concert can be found here.