David Sawer studied at the University of York, and won a DAAD scholarship to study with Mauricio Kagel in Cologne.
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.
Byrnan Wood, his first large-scale orchestral piece, was premiered at the Proms in 1992 and subsequently 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. From Morning to Midnight, commissioned by English National Opera, premièred at the London Coliseum in 2001, for which he received a Laurence Olivier Award Nomination for Outstanding Achievement in Opera.
Other works include a Piano Concerto for Rolf Hind, which won a British Academy British Composer Award 2003, Stramm Gedichte for the New London Chamber Choir, Rebus for musikFabrik and Flesh and Blood for two singers and orchestra.
Recent works include several stage works: Skin Deep, co-commissioned by Opera North, Bregenzer Festspiele and Det Kongelige Teater Copenhagen; The Skating Rink, for Garsington Opera; Rumpelstiltskin, for dancers and ensemble, commissioned by the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group; April\March, a ballet score commissioned by RPS Drummond Fund for the London Sinfonietta and choreographed by the Royal Ballet in 2019.