Born in London in 1967, she majored in violin and composition from Edinburgh University and composition from the class of Wolfgang Rihm at the Karlsruhe Music College in Germany (1991-94). From 1994-97 she held the Premier Scholarship at the Edinburgh University for a PhD in composition with Nigel Osborne.
She has received various composition prizes including the Ernst von Siemens Foundation Award, ARD and BMW Musica Viva Prize, Paul Hindemith Prize, Royal Philharmonic Society Composition Award for Chamber Music (2008 and 2013), GEMA Prize for Instrumental Music (2010), Mauricio Kagel Prize and Hans and Gertrude Zender Foundation (2015), and BASCA British Composer Award (2016). She became a member of the Berlin Academy of Arts in 2009 and the Saxon Academy of Arts in Dresden in 2013. She was the composer-in-residence at the Staatskapelle Dresden for the 2009/10 season and at Huddersfield Festival in 2010. She lectured at the Summer Courses for New Music in Darmstadt (2010 and 2012), the Impuls Academy in Graz (2011, 2013), Music Days in Ostrava, at the High School of Music, Theatre and Media in Hanover (2012-14), and Schloss Solitude Summer Academy (2015).
Since 2003, Saunders has steadily expanded the spectrum of her compositions, beginning with chroma (2003-13), a collage of 6-23 instrument groups and sound sources distributed throughout a space. Since the premiere in 2003, 19 new versions have been produced for radically different performance venues, with the architectural conditions of these spaces determining the arrangement of the individual chamber music groups within the piece.
Later works are quiet and fragile collage compositions in which Saunders continues to address her fascination with the separation of the musicians in the performing space.
Selected works: Behind the Velvet Curtain for trumpet, piano, harp and cello (1991), the underside of green for clarinet, violin and piano (1994), Mirror, mirror on the wall for piano (1994), CRIMSON - Molly's Song 1 for 12 soloists, mechanical metronomes, whistles and three music boxes (1995), G and E on A for orchestra and 27 music boxes (1996-97), String Quartet (1997), Duo for violin and piano (1996-99), cinnabar, double concerto for violin and trumpet, ensemble and 11 music boxes (1999), Duo 3 for viola and percussion (1999-2001), Duo four - two exposures, double concerto for trumpet, percussion and orchestra (2000), albescere for five voices and 12 instruments (2001), insideout, music for a choreographic installation (with the Sasha Waltz Dance Company, 2003), vermilion for clarinet, electric guitar and cello (2003), chroma (versions I-X) for several chamber groups and sound objects (2003-8), crimson for piano (2003-5), blaauw for double-bell trumpet (2004), miniata for piano, accordion, choir and symphony orchestra (2004), choler for two pianos (2004), rubricare for string orchestra and baroque organ (2005), fury for double bass (2005), Blue and Gray for two double basses (2005), a visible trace for 11 soloists and conductor (2006), Stirrings Still for five players (2006), traces for chamber orchestra (2006), Soliloquy for six voices a cappella (2007), company for five soloists (2007-8), Murmurs, collage for 10 players (2009), to and fro for violin and oboe (2010), Stratum for orchestra (2010), dialogue for viola and percussion (2011), Neither for two double bell trumpets (2011), Stasis, "spatial collage" for 16 soloists (2011), Still for violin and orchestra (2011), Stirrings for nine players (2011), Fletch for string quartet (2012), Ire, concerto for cello, strings and percussion (2012), ...of waters making moan for accordion (2013), Solitude for cello (2013), Void for percussion duo and orchestra (2013‒14), Alba for trumpet and orchestra (2014), Six for AK for two percussionists, two pianists, guitar and harp (2015), Aether for bass clarinet duo (2014‒16), Skin for soprano and 13 instruments (2015‒16), White for double-bell trumpet (2015-16), Bite for bass flute (2016).