Rebecca Saunders

Feminale of Music

Photo of a woman with glasses and reddish hair, studying a sheet of music lying on a table.

»When I finished my studies in Edinburgh, a professor advised me to become a teacher. My desire to compose was completely incomprehensible to him. It was a shock. That was the first time that I really perceived the social conditions. Since then, things have changed, noticeably changed, even in classical music.« – Rebecca Saunders, interview with »DIE ZEIT«, 15.05.2019

Saunders was born on 19th December 1967 in London, today she lives and works in Berlin. She grew up in a family of musicians, she has pianists and organists as parents and grandparents, her father runs a choir, her sister is a jazz singer. Rebecca Saunders studies composition with Nigel Osborne at the University of Edinburgh and with Wolfgang Rihm at the Hochschule für Musik Karlsruhe. In an interview with »ZEIT« she describes her encounter with Rihm as »extremely liberating«, as an encounter »with a completely different kind of music«. She gets to know a music in Germany in which it is not important to »write melodies«. Saunders, for example, is fascinated by »working sounds into a fabric in such a way that it is not possible to tell where they come from and where they are going«.

Rebecca Saunders composes a lot of chamber music, works for smaller and larger instrumental groups, up to symphony orchestras. One focus is »spatial music«, as is evident in her work »Chroma«, for example. Chroma is always adapted to the special spatiality of the respective concert hall, in which the musicians are not placed frontally opposite the audience, but are freely distributed in space, sometimes in several adjacent rooms. Chroma has thus developed over the course of ten years in different versions, also with a variable number of instrumentalists and different performance durations.

Among many other prizes that Rebecca Saunders has already received, she will be awarded the extremely prestigious »Ernst von Siemens Music Prize« in 2019, the first composer and second woman after violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter.

Music Pieces

Séverine Ballon performs »Solitude« (2013) by Rebecca Saunders

Still for solo violin and orchestra, jointly commissioned by Beethovenfest Bonn and BBC Radio 3 published by Contemporary Classical: first performed at the Beethoven Festival 2011 in Bonn by Carolin Widmann and the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sylvain Cambreling. Here the UK premiere with the same actors conducted by Lionel Bringuier.

Skin, published by and performed by Juliet Fraser together with the Ensemble Klangforum Wien, conducted by Titus Engel as part of the Donaueschinger Musiktage 2016, CD recording with support of SWR2 and SWR Classic, 2018 NEOS Music

Dust – Module 1 (of 8) (2017/18), recorded and released by Ensemble Musikfabrik as »Lockdown Tape #3«, played by Dirk Rothbrust (drums), on 21.04.2020 

Dust – Module 5/3/4 (of 8) (2017/18), recorded and released by Ensemble Musikfabrik as »Lockdown Tape #4«, played by Dirk Rothbrust (drums), on 24.04.2020 


Rebecca Saunders talks about her new work »Yes« which premiered at HCMF by Ensemble Musikfabrik, published 2018 by Uni of Huddersfield News & Research. Professor Aaron Cassidy, Director of the Centre for Research in New Music (CeReNeM) at the University of Huddersfield, leads the interview and asks Professor Saunders about her general inspirations and working methods in her music.


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Mon, 06.04.2020 – Fri, 01.05.2020

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