David Sawer studied music at the University of York and subsequently won a DAAD scholarship to study in Cologne with Mauricio Kagel. In 1992 he was awarded the Fulbright-Chester-Schirmer Fellowship in Composition; a Paul Hamlyn Foundation Award followed in 1993 and, in 1995, the Arts Foundation’s Composer Fellowship. In 1996 he was composer-in-association with the Bournemouth Orchestras.
Byrnan Wood, his first large-scale orchestral piece, was premièred at the 1992 BBC Proms and recorded for NMC by the BBC Symphony Orchestra with Andrew Davis. The Trumpet Concerto was premièred by the same orchestra in 1995, and in 1997 the BBC National Orchestra of Wales gave the world première performances of the greatest happiness principle in Cardiff and the BBC Proms - also later recorded for NMC by the BBC SO. Tiroirs, commissioned by the Michael Vyner Trust for the London Sinfonietta, has been performed throughout Europe, in the USA and at the 1998 ISCM World Music Days.
Drama, or a fascination with theatrical possibilities, is present in many of his works. His radio composition Swansong, a commentary in words and music on a short story by Hector Berlioz, won a Sony Award in 1990. Cat’s-Eye was choreographed by Richard Alston for Ballet Rambert and Hollywood Extra, written for the Matrix Ensemble to accompany an expressionist silent film, was taken on a Contemporary Music Network Tour by the Asko Ensemble.
In the theatre, he has worked with playwrights Edward Bond, Nick Dear and Paul Godfrey and has written two operas: the one-act The Panic for the Royal Opera’s Garden Venture, and From Morning to Midnight, a full-length work commissioned by English National Opera, premièred at the London Coliseum in 2001, and for which he received a Laurence Olivier Award nomination for Outstanding Achievement in Opera; a suite from the opera has been recorded for NMC.
Other recent works include a Piano Concerto for Rolf Hind and the BBC Symphony Orchestra, which won the British Academy British Composer Award 2003 in the orchestra category, Stramm Gedichte for the New London Chamber Choir and James Wood, and Rebus, commissioned by musikFabrik.
Sawer's operetta Skin Deep, written to a libretto by comedian Armando Iannucci, was premièred in 2009 by Opera North, with performances in Leeds, London, Salford, Newcastle, Glasgow, Bregenz and Copenhagen. In the same year, Rumpelstiltskin, a ballet for dancers and ensemble, was premièred by the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group.