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‘Jazz, Classical, Experimental’: Swan City Piano Festival Showcases Diverse Talent

by Madonna

For the fourth time, Lakeland will host some of the most accomplished pianists from Florida and across the United States.

The Swan City Piano Festival returns this year from Friday through Sunday, offering a free, multi-day celebration of pianists and piano repertoire, both historical and contemporary. According to the festival’s website, it features pianists with unique musical and curatorial voices and commissions new works to cultivate a living repertoire.

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In addition to performances, the artists will engage with the community through educational programming and immersive events across Lakeland.

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The 2024 Swan City Piano Festival schedule includes:

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Robert Fleitz, 7 p.m., Friday at Harrison School for the Arts, 750 Hollingsworth Road.

Martin Bejerano, 7 p.m., Saturday at the Polk Museum of Art at Florida Southern College, 800 E. Palmetto St.

Byeol Kim, 3 p.m., Saturday at the First Presbyterian Church, 175 Lake Hollingsworth Drive. Her performance is titled “Reminisce.”

This year’s commissioned composer is Natalia Rojcovscaia-Tumaha from Moldova, currently studying composition at FSU. Her piece will be performed by Fleitz.

The festival was conceived by Fleitz and his father, Patrick Fleitz, to consolidate piano performances into one festival rather than individual recitals across Lakeland and Polk County.

Patrick Fleitz, head of piano studies at Harrison School for the Arts and holder of a master’s degree in piano performance from the University of South Florida, Tampa, stated that this year’s festival will include storytelling sessions on Friday at 9:30 and 10:15 a.m. at Pressed LKLD coffee shop, led by Claire Fleitz, who holds a master’s degree in applied theatre.

Additionally, there will be an interactive children’s performance by Tampa jazz pianist John O’Leary, developed with Claire Fleitz, at the Florida Children’s Museum on Saturday at 10:30 and 11:15 a.m.

On Saturday from 1 to 3 p.m., Charles Hulin, an associate professor of music at Southeastern University and parish pianist at Lakeland’s All Saints Episcopal Church, will lead a masterclass for aspiring pianists at the Harrison School for the Arts.

Speaking from the Avaloch Farm Music Institute in New Hampshire, where he is an artist in residence, Robert Fleitz mentioned he has performed in the Swan City Piano Festival once before, in 2022, traveling from his home in Helsinki, Finland.

For 2024, Robert Fleitz will perform works from Latvia and Japan, along with the newly commissioned piece by Rojcovscaia-Tumaha. His selections include “Sarabande” by Edvard Grieg, “Sonata No. 2” by Kuldar Sink, “Varo’s Moon” by Alexia Riner, and “Battle!” by Nobuo Uematsu.

“I chose this program to reflect my current living environment and the times we live in,” he said. “Our artists are incredibly generous, and regardless of your relationship with piano music, there will be something for everyone – from jazz to classical to experimental and beyond.”

Fleitz noted an increase in attendance over the years, attributing it to the festival’s social media presence and the high caliber of talent. He emphasized the focus on Florida-based pianists, many of whom come from local universities such as the University of South Florida in Tampa, the University of Central Florida in Orlando, Stetson University in Deland, and Southeastern University and Florida Southern College in Lakeland.

“We’ve consistently featured high-quality performers and aimed to provide a diverse set of concerts,” he said. “Focusing on Florida-based pianists has uncovered many great talents nearby, making the festival even more exciting.”

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