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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Matthew Kaner

Alastair Putt obituary

Among Alastair Putt’s compositions was his 2014 commission Spiral for the London Symphony Orchestra.
Among Alastair Putt’s compositions was his 2014 commission Spiral for the London Symphony Orchestra. Photograph: Bevis Hungate

My friend and colleague Alastair Putt, who has died aged 39, was a highly accomplished and respected composer, singer and guitarist. He performed internationally with many leading vocal ensembles, and his compositions were played widely, including at the BBC Proms.

Alastair was born in Kingston upon Thames, south-west London, to Tony, a civil engineer for Kensington and Chelsea borough, and Sue (nee Turner), a bilingual secretary. He attended Tiffin school in Kingston upon Thames before studying music at New College, Oxford, singing as a choral scholar under Edward Higginbottom and establishing himself as a versatile performer. After graduating with a first, he moved to London and worked as a tenor and guitarist, singing regularly with the BBC Singers and the vocal ensemble Exaudi.

In 2009, Alastair studied for a master’s degree in composition with Malcolm Singer and Julian Anderson at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama. It was here we first met, the two of us part of a small but thriving community of other postgraduate composers, fellows and doctoral students. Alastair was, by this stage, already incredibly knowledgable about contemporary and late 20th-century classical music as well as a dauntingly skilled musician. Yet he was equally admired for his warm, congenial personality, sharp wit, and genuine encouragement of others’ musical endeavours, leading to many lasting friendships with his composer colleagues.

As a fellow at the Tanglewood Music Center in Boston in 2012, he swiftly impressed the composition faculty (especially the visiting composers George Benjamin and Oliver Knussen, who were both taken by the beauty of his wind quintet Halazuni) and he was invited back the following year with a commission for the prestigious music festival. Shortly after Knussen’s death, Halazuni was programmed in the 2019 BBC Proms to celebrate the maiden outing of the Knussen Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Alastair’s long-standing friend Ryan Wigglesworth.

Among his other compositional achievements were his wonderful 2014 commission Spiral for the London Symphony Orchestra and an exquisite yet challenging set of pieces for children’s choir and harp, Under the Giant Fern of Night, commissioned to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Finchley Children’s Music Group in 2018. Setting poetry of the astronomer Rebecca Elson, this work reflected Alastair’s own fascination with the universe. He intentionally presented the choir with demanding music, and in doing so, both showed his respect for these gifted young musicians and also allowed their remarkable capabilities to be showcased to a packed Queen Elizabeth Hall. The following year, the French premiere of Under the Giant Fern of Night was broadcast live from Chartres cathedral on French TV, performed by the Maîtrise de Radio France.

Alastair was a steadfast and thoughtful friend, gregarious and convivial (he was often first to the bar after a concert). Known for his colourful dress sense, sometimes provocative views, fabulous cooking and fiendish cryptic crossword skills, he nevertheless remained modest about his own achievements and talents.

In his final months, Alastair struggled with severe mental illness; despite the very best efforts of his family and friends, he succumbed to his illness and chose not to go on.

He is survived by his wife, the pianist Anyssa Neumann, whom he married in 2015, his parents, his sisters, Laura and Ellie, and two nephews.

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