Sam Hayden studied composition with Martin Butler, Michael Finnissy and Jonathan Harvey at the University of Sussex, Joseph Dubiel and David Rakowski at Columbia University, New York, and Louis Andriessen at the Royal Conservatory, Den Haag.
He has been the recipient of many prizes and awards including first prize in the 1995 Benjamin Britten International Competition (for mv (1992, rev. 2002) for large orchestra), and the composition prize of the 1998 Gaudeamus International Young Composers' Meeting, Apeldoorn. He was awarded a summer residency at the Civitella Ranieri Center in Umbria in 2000, and a Fulbright Chester Schirmer Fellowship in 2001, enabling him to work with Brian Ferneyhough at Stanford University. Sunk Losses (2002) for large orchestra, composed during a 2002 residency at the Akademie Schloss Solitude, Stuttgart, won first prize in the 2003 Christoph Delz Foundation Composers' Competition, receiving its first performance by the Saarbrücken Radio Symphony Orchestra during the festival Musik im 21. Jahrhundert, in Saarbrücken in May 2003.
Hayden's Faber Music Millennium Series commission, Collateral Damage (1999), was performed in 2003 by Ensemble InterContemporain in the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris. Recent commissions include Le Retour à la Raison (2003) for solo percussion and electronics for the Ictus Ensemble, Emergence (2004, rev. 2010) for solo accordion, ensemble and live electronics for Frode Haltli and the Oslo Sinfonietta; Relative Autonomy (2004) for the London Sinfonietta; system/error (2003, rev. 2005) for Anne La Berge, Mieko Kanno and Claire Edwardes; Substratum (2006, rev. 2008) for the BBC Symphony Orchestra; schismatics (2007, rev. 2010) for electric violin and computer for Mieko Kanno; and Die Modularitäten (2007) for Ensemble Mosaik. Permutazioni / a caso (2009) for amplified ensemble received its premiere by RepertorioZero at Tage für Neue Musik, Zürich, in November 2009, and misguided (2011) was premiered by the ELISION Ensemble at the ABC Iwaki Auditorium, Melbourne, Australia in March 2011. Hayden's most recent work, surface/tension (2012) for solo oboe and ensemble, was premiered by Christopher Redgate and the Cikada Ensemble at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival 2012.
Hayden's works have been performed at major international festivals including Ars Musica (Brussels), Bath Festival, BBC Proms, BIG Torino Biennale Arte Emergente, Gaida Festival (Vilnius), Gaudeamus New Music Week (Amsterdam), Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, ISCM Festival (Essen / Hong Kong), Klangraum (Stuttgart), MaerzMusik (Berlin), NYYD Festival (Tallin), Rumor Festival (Utrecht), Tage für Neue Musik (Zürich), Time of Music (Viitasaari), The State of the Nation (London), Ultima (Oslo) and Warsaw Autumn. His works have been recorded on the Divine Art, GROB, NMC, Oboe Classics, United Phoenix Records and UTS labels. A portrait CD of his works (presence/absence) was released by NMC in 2012 as part of their Debut Discs series.
Other performers of Hayden’s music have included the Ensemble Antidogma, ASKO Ensemble, Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, Canto Battuto, Ensemble Cattrall, Composers Ensemble, De Ereprijs, Ensemble Ernst, Ensemble Exposé, Gaudeamus Ensemble, Gemini, Gruppe für Neue Musik Baden, IGNM Zürich, Klangforum Wien, Kokoro, Mats Scheidegger, NYYD Ensemble, RNCM Wind Orchestra, Steamboat Switzerland, Ensemble Surplus and Orkest de Volharding. His music has been performed regularly by ensemble [rout], which he co-founded with composers Paul Newland and Paul Whitty. He has also performed in laptop improvisation duos with Tom Hall and Urs Liska. He was appointed Reader in Music at Trinity Laban Conservatoire in 2013.