© Paul De Cloedt
Dr. Swerts, Piet Jozef (b. November 14, 1960, Tongeren) is a Belgian composer, conductor and pianist of international acclaim; his large catalogue of more than 240 works includes stage, orchestral, chamber, choral, vocal, and piano works.
Dr. Swerts studied from 1974-89 at the Leuven College of Arts (LUCA) Campus Lemmens in Leuven, where he obtained ten first prizes and for the first time in the history of the same institute the special Prize Lemmens Tinel for composition and piano with great distinction. Among his teachers were Alan Weiss (USA) and Robert Groslot.
Since1982, he is Professor of Composition and Orchestration at the same institute, now Department of Drama and Music associated with the Catholic University of Leuven. He has been invited as guest professor in the Sweelinck Conservatory, Amsterdam, Netherlands, in the Department of Electronic Music at the University of Huddersfield, GB, the Polytechnic Institute in Castelo Branco, Portugal, as well as in the Polytechnic Institute North Karelia, Conservatory of Joensuu, Finland, he Conservatory of Barcelona, Spain, the University of Iowa and the Western Connecticut State University.
As a composer, he has received more than ten awards, including the Baron Flor Peeters Prize (1983) for Apocalyps I and the Prize of the Belgian Artistic Promotion (1985) for the song Ardennes. He has also received the SABAM Prize(1986) for his Piano Concerto No. 2 (Rotations), which was chosen as a compulsory concerto during the finals of the International Queen Elisabeth Competition later that year. Other awards include the Camille Huysmans Composition Prize (1986) for Dream pictures and the Prize for Composition of the Province Limburg (1986) for Capriccio for guitar and chamber orchestra. In addition, he has received the Silver Trophy of the Cultural Youth Passport Belgium-Netherlands (1988) as a promising young artist, the Prize of the Gazet van Antwerpen (newspaper) (1989) for Symphony No. 1 and the Prize for Composition of the Province Brabant (1993) for a choral work.
He considers himself as autodidactic. Nevertheless, in summer 1981, he participated in a composition summer course with Witold Lutoslawski and Vladimir Kotonsky in Poland. From 1985 until 2005, he became also conductor of the Ensemble for Contemporary Music at the Institute and since that time, he has mostly worked on the base of commissions. Among commissioners are the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra of Flanders, the Symphony Orchestra of Flanders, the Opera of Antwerp, the Radio Orchestra, European Brass Band Championships, l’Orchestre de Strassbourg, Rubio String quartet, Gaggini Quartet, Flanders Recorder Quartet, the International Queen Elisabeth competition and many others.
In 1993, his violin concerto Zodiac was selected out of 154 works from 28 countries as the compulsory concerto for the finals of the International Queen Elisabeth Competition for Violin. For this piece, he received the Grand Prix in the International Queen Elisabeth Composition Competition, 1993 (the first Belgian composer to win the prize). Included in the jury at the competition that year were Henryk Górecki and Franco Donatoni. In the same year, a double CD of the world première performance of his Passio Domini Nostri Jesu Christi Secundum Marcum for four soloists, chorus and large orchestra (composed in 1988-89 and first performed in 1993) was released. In 1994, the international organization Jaycies awarded him as one of the Ten Outstanding Young People.
Dr. Swerts has been invited as a guest-conductor in Austria, the Czech Republic, France, the Netherlands, Poland, and China, where he conducted the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra in 1994 with his own works. In October 2005, he was guest conductor of the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra in Caracas, Venezuela, where he conducted a full program Belgian music, including his own compositions. In 2019 he conducted the Radio and TV orchestra in Tirana with his double concerto Passions.
In December 1996-January 1997, his first opera Les liaisons dangereuses was premièred by the Flemish Opera (who commissioned it) in Ghent and Antwerp. In the magazine, Opera Now (UK), it was hailed as one of the most remarkable events of that season. In January 1997, there was a CD release by Eufoda devoted to his piano compositions (1985-95), recorded by the composer himself.
In September 2000, his Symphony No. 2 (Morgenrot) was given its world première to unanimous critical acclaim; since, his Clarinet Quintet, recently recorded by the Finnish Tempera String Quartet en Roeland Hendrikx, clarinet for the label In Flanders’ Fields has also been given a successful première. His fifth piano concerto Wings performed and recorded by the composer has received already many performances after the first year of its creation: 4 performances in Germany, December 2004, 3 performances in Japan August 2004, 6 performances in Belgium in 2003, 2 performances in Québec, Canada in April 2005, and performances in Singapore, France 2006, USA december 2005. His Dance of Uzume for alto saxophone and concert band was his first commission from Japan for the famous EMI-artist Nobuya Sugawa, recorded in January 2005 by the famous Tokio Kosei Wind Orchestra. His large-scale piece for choir and orchestra Living Stone, a set of 14 pieces and 60 minutes of music to be built in an exposition with the same name and content in the Museum site M in Leuven, from September 2005 until January 2006 has been recorded on CD.
In 2006, his Kotekan for saxophone and strings has been commissioned by the International Adolphe Sax Association as compulsory concerto during the finals of the competition in November 2006. He played recitals in USA in 2005, 2007, 2010 and in Ethiopa, Addis Abeba.
In 2011, he became Doctor Phd in Arts with the greatest distinction at the Leuven University College of Arts with a comparative research of compositional canonic techniques between the L’homme armé Masses of the late 15th Century and contemporary composers who utilized the same melody.
In 2012, he composed his 6th Piano concerto ‘Indian Summer’ and was also involved to realize the soundtrack for an international film ‘Atlantic.’ by the Dutch director Jan-Willem Van Ewijk from Amsterdam.
In 2013, he became appointed as member of the Royal Academy of Arts of Belgium.
In 2014, Vienna Philharmonic harpist Anneleen Lenaerts played the première of his Etoiles for harp and orchestra.
In 2016 he received a commission for the National Orchestra of Belgium for a new orchestral work named ‘l’Apogée’. which was premiered in May 2017, Hugh Wolff conducted.
In September 2017, his large oratorio ‘Symphony of Trees’ (86’) commissioned by the City of Ypres, was premiered as a commemoration of the First World War in the Cathedral of Ypres with Thomas Blondelle, tenor, Lee Bisset, soprano, a children’s choir of 60 singers, a 280-man mixed choir, two organs and the Flemish Symphony Orchestra conducted by David Angus. Its Cd is released by PHAEDRA.
In November 15th, 2017, he conducted the Ukrainian Symphony Orchestra at the Gala Concert in Kiev as closure of the Golden Saxophone Competition under surveillance of the Belgian Embassy.
In 2019, commissions led to first performances of Passions, a new Double Concerto for two pianos in Belgium and Nijmegen 2019, Serenata for wind ensemble, commissioned by Il Gardelino, a new Suite, Horta for saxophone and piano, commissioned by Arno Bornkamp, presented at the World Congress in Zagreb in 2018.
In March 2020, the Roeland Hendrikx Ensemble created his large chamber music cycle Le Bestiaire, for clarinet, piano and string quartet. It has been recorded on CD and will be released in September 2020. In June, his Dutch book Principes van de Orkestratie has been published, his adaptation and introduction of Korsakovs book.
Further first performances included his Third Symphony Yakara by the Zuidnederlandse Philharmonie in September 2020.
He completed recently a new Celloconcerto Sehnsucht for the National Orchestra of Belgium and a Big Ben Raphsody for carillon and orchestra as well. First performance of this celloconcerto will take place in Bozar, Brussels by the Belgian National Orchestra and Yubai Chen, cello, 21th of June 2024.