David Sawer receives regular commissions from the UK's leading orchestras and has written operas for the Royal Opera House, English National Opera and Opera North

He studied at the University of York and won a DAAD scholarship to study with Mauricio Kagel in Cologne; he has been awarded the Fulbright-Chester-Schirmer Fellowship in Composition, a Paul Hamlyn Foundation Award, and the Arts Foundation’s Composer Fellowship, as well as Civitella Ranieri and MacDowell residencies.

David has written for stage, concert hall, dance, film and radio. Drama, or a fascination with theatrical possibilities, is present in many of his works.

Operas include From Morning to Midnight, premiered by English National Opera at the London Coliseum, for which he received an Olivier Award nomination for Outstanding Achievement in Opera, Skin Deep, for Opera North, Royal Danish Opera and the Bregenz Festival, and The Skating Rink, which premiered at Garsington Opera.

Many of his orchestral works have been released on the NMC label. These include Byrnan Wood, premiered at the BBC Proms by the BBC Symphony Orchestra (NMC DO28), the greatest happiness principle, given its first performance by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, and Tiroirs, commissioned by the London Sinfonietta, which has been performed throughout Europe and at the ISCM World Music Days (NMC D116).

Three ensemble works with connections to dance appear on a further disc: Cat’s-eye, which was choreographed by Ballet Rambert, April\March, premiered at the BBC Proms by the London Sinfonietta and subsequently choreographed for the Royal Ballet, and a suite from Rumpelstiltskin, a stage work commissioned by BCMG, which toured to the Huddersfield and Spitalfields Festivals, and which was subsequently produced as a feature film for Sky Arts/Curzon Cinemas (NMC D251).

David has collaborated with the playwright Howard Barker on the vocal work Flesh and Blood, for mezzo-soprano, baritone and orchestra (BBC Symphony Orchestra, Barbican) and with David Harrower on The Lighthouse Keepers, for two speakers and ensemble (BCMG, Cheltenham Festival).

His choral works include Songs of Love and War, first performed by the BBC Singers at the Alte Oper, Frankfurt, and given its UK premiere at the BBC Proms, Stramm Gedichte, for the New London Chamber Choir and Bath Festival, and How Among the Frozen Words, commissioned for the BBC Singers, which was nominated for a RPS Award in the Large-Scale Composition category.

David has written a number of scores for the theatre and radio. His radio composition Swansong, a commentary in words and music on a short story by Hector Berlioz, created for Radio 3’s ‘Between the Ears’, won a Sony Award; Hollywood Extra, written to accompany an expressionist silent film, and commissioned by the BFI, was taken on a Contemporary Music Network Tour by the Asko Ensemble.

He has composed music for plays at the RSC, National Theatre, Almeida and Bush Theatre and written songs for Brecht’s The Good Soul of Szechuan at the Young Vic Theatre.

His music is published by Universal Edition and Edition Peters.


David supervises PhDs in Composition with subject areas that include music-theatre and opera.


Rumpelstiltskin Suite, Cat’s-eye, April\March, Between
Birmingham Contemporary Music Group/Anne Denholm/Martyn Brabbins
NMC D251

Tiroirs, From Morning To Midnight: Symphonic Suite, The Memory of Water, the greatest happiness principle
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Birmingham Contemporary Music Group/Martyn Brabbins/Susanna Mälkki
NMC D116

Byrnan Wood
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Andrew Davis
NMC D028