The members of Five By Design.


Symphonic Swing

The Louisville Orchestra
Bob Bernhardt, conductor
Featuring Five by Design

Review by Annette Skaggs

Entire contents copyright © 2015 by Annette Skaggs. All rights reserved

In true Bob Bernhardt fashion, the maestro got the joint jumping to Tyzik’s Symphonic Swing, getting the audience in the mood for a trip back to when Swing music was King, and our boys (and girls) were fighting overseas. A quick tempo set, that the Maestro had to slow down a bit, it was a fun arrangement with great lines from the brass and woodwinds and some beats from the drums.

After the Maestro delighted the audience with a groaner of a joke, he relished introducing the group, Five by Design. The quintet is made up of husband and wife team Lorie Carpenter –Niska (soprano) and Kurt Niska (tenor), brother Terrance Niska (baritone), Catherine Scott (mezzo) and Michael Swedberg (bass/baritone). This group has made a career of working with Big Bands and Orchestras across the US and Canada and have worked with some big names in the music industry, including Maury Laws, most famous for his work with the Rankin-Bass Animation studios that produced such holiday favorites like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman.

The ensemble, replete with gowns and gloves for the ladies and coat and tails for the guys, began with a mash-up of Artie Shaw’s Traffic Jam with Bugle Call Rag from the trio of Jack Pettis, Billy Meyers and Elmer Schoebel. We then enjoy Cole Porter’s Begin the Beguine, which provided some lush harmonies. And just as we are comfy and cozy, out comes Duke Ellington’s It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing), soon to be followed by Joe Garland’s In the Mood. Unfortunately, there were times during these two pieces that there would be some vocal washing out, meaning that either a vocalist ran out of steam or there was a problem with the microphone.

Among the highlights of the evening was the Mancini/Mercer song Charade, made famous by Bobby Darin and brilliantly accompanied by the orchestra, including Willis Delony, Five by Design’s pianist and music arranger. I was very impressed with this person’s virtuosity. The whole piece felt like it was being improvised in a most fantastic way.

Lerner and Loewe’s Almost Like Being in Love had some problems with succinct cut-offs, both from the orchestra and Five by Design. When the orchestra began playing Choo Choo Ch’Boogie, I could have sworn it was a mistake as it was similar to Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy. Of course it wasn’t, but there are many similarities between the two.

The set came to a close with a great, nearly a cappella (save for percussion) version of Cooley and Davenport’s Fever, famously sang by Peggy Lee. Featuring Ms. Carpenter-Niska as the soloist, the gentlemen of the group acted as double bass and brass as well as background vocals. Terrance Niska arranged this appetizing nugget of music.

After intermission we get to go South of the Border with a fun, snap-your-castanets, Latin-infused set of Swing and Jazz compositions.

We started with Marquez’s Danzon #2. All I have to say about this piece was Fantastico! The orchestra was Muy Caliente. A rhythmically challenging piece, it was executed perfectly and I believe the whole of the group thoroughly enjoyed performing this arrangement. As I sat there listening I was imagining Flamenco Louisville dancing along. There were gorgeous solo lines from the clarinet and violin, and an interesting doubling of piccolo and piano; I really enjoyed this piece.

Five by Design came back out and we were treated to Porter’s Night and Day, Ruiz’s Sway (made popular by Dean Martin), Jorgen Ben’s Más Que Nada, Kahn’s Carioca, Merrill’s Mambo Italiano, Barbosa and Reis’s Cara de Payaso and finally, Jump in the Line made famous by Harry Belafonte.

With a set heavy with energy and music that makes a person want to get up and dance, I didn’t feel a lot of energy coming from the guest artists. Often times I didn’t hear any distinction of harmony, and the percussion felt a little off rhythm, not a lot, just slightly. I also got the feeling that a sometimes when the guest artists spoke, they were nervous about speaking in public, because they were so hurried that at times they were unintelligible.

A special tip of the hat to the orchestra’s Robert Docs who was swinging as Five by Design’s main Double Bass and to principal trombonist Donna Parks, who had just completed running the Boston Marathon days before.

A very special group indeed. Keep on swinging!!!

Bravo Tutti

Symphonic Swing

April 24, 2015

Louisville Orchestra
Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts
501 West Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202


[box_light]Annette SkaggsAnnette Skaggs is a heavily involved Arts Advocate here in Louisville and freelance professional opera singer who has performed throughout Europe, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Boulder, Little Rock, Peoria, Chicago, New York and of course Louisville. Aside from her singing career she has been a production assistant for Kentucky Opera, New York Opera and Northwestern University. She has a 25+ year knowledge of the Classical Arts.[/box_light]