A violinist by training, Rebecca Saunders studied composition with Wolfgang Rihm at the Musikhochschule of Karlsruhe and at Edinburgh University.
As some of these titles suggest — along with others, those of Crimson for piano (2003–5) or Blue and Gray for two double basses (2005) — Saunders makes us aware of sound as color, and especially as the freshly intense color that comes from new and carefully prescribed performing techniques. She explores tone-colours, breath sounds, breathing, and studies the relationship of instrumentalists with sounds in space. She frequently makes use of spatialisation processes (Chroma for ensemble and sound objets, 2003; Stirrings Still I for five players, 2006; Stasis for 16 soloists, first performed by the ensemble MusikFabrik, 2011). Silence is another fundamental element in her concept of music: she makes it audible, composes with and around it.
Her works sometimes require mechanical instruments, radios, metronomes, whistles, the cries of the players (Crimson - Molly's Song 1, first performed by the Klangforum Wien, 1995; G and E on A, 1997). Saunders has written for all groupings: solo instrument (Fury for double bass solo, premiered at the Musica festival, 2005; Shadow for piano, premiered by Nicholas Hodges, 2013), vocal music (Soliloquy for six voices a cappella, first performed by the Neue Vocalsolisten, 2007), chamber music (Fletch for string quartet, first performed by the Arditti Quartet, 2012), orchestra (Alba for trumpet and orchestra, premiered at the Musica Viva festival of Munich, 2014), stage works (Insideout, choreographic installation with the collaboration of Sasha Waltz, 2003).