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; in 2006
he was awarded a Civitella Ranieri Fellowship.
1990s saw a succession of important commissions. Byrnan Wood, his first large-scale orchestral piece, was
premiered at the Proms and recorded on the NMC label by the BBC Symphony
Orchestra with Andrew Davis. The Trumpet Concerto received its first performance from the same
orchestra in 1995, and in 1997 the BBC National Orchestra of Wales gave the
world and London premières of the greatest happiness principle at St David’s Hall,
Cardiff, and the Proms respectively. 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.
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. In Byrnan Wood, the
image from Macbeth of Malcolm’s disguised army advancing on Dunsinane provided
an initial abstract idea – sound transforming itself as it moves through the
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. From Morning to Midnight, a full-length opera commissioned by English National Opera, premiered
at the London Coliseum in 2001, and for which he received a Laurence Olivier
Award nomination for Outstanding Achievement in Opera.
works include a Piano Concerto for Rolf Hind, which won the British Academy
British Composer Award 2003 in the orchestra category, Stramm
the New London Chamber Choir and James Wood, and Rebus, commissioned by musikFabrik and given its
world première in 2004, receiving its UK première in 2005 with the London Sinfonietta.
A CD of four orchestral works recorded by the
BBC Symphony Orchestra and the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group conducted by
Martyn Brabbins and Susanna Mälkki was released in 2007 on the NMC label.
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 and Bregenz and by
the Royal Danish Opera in Copenhagen. In the same year, Rumpelstiltskin,
ballet for dancers and ensemble, was premièred by the Birmingham Contemporary
Music Group, touring to Glasgow and the Huddersfield and Spitalfields
As part of the celebrations
for Queen Elisabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee, Sawer’s new choral work, Wonder,
was performed in York Minster in June 2012. Flesh and Blood, for two
voices and orchestra, received its world première by the BBC Symphony
Orchestra in February 2013. The Birmingham Contemporary Music Group gave the
world première of the Rumpelstiltskin Suite at the Wigmore
Hall in April 2013. Sawer’s The
Lighthouse Keepers for two actors, ensemble and tape was premièred
by the BCMG under Martyn Brabbins on 4/7/2013 in Cheltenham.