My friend and colleague Alastair Putt, who died at the age of 39, was a very accomplished and respected composer, singer and guitarist. He has performed worldwide with many leading vocal ensembles and his compositions have been widely performed, including at the BBC Proms.
Alastair was born in Kingston upon Thames, south-west London, to Tony, a civil engineer for the boroughs of Kensington and Chelsea, and Sue (née Turner), a bilingual secretary. He attended Tiffin School in Kingston upon Thames before studying music at New College, Oxford, singing as a chorister under Edward Higginbottom and establishing himself as a versatile performer. After graduating 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 an MA in composition with Malcolm Singer and Julian Anderson at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama. It was here that we first met, both part of a small but thriving community of other postgraduate composers, fellows and PhD students. Alastair was, at this point, already incredibly knowledgeable about late 20th century and contemporary classical music, as well as a formidablely talented musician. Yet he was also admired for his warm and sympathetic personality, quick wit, and genuine encouragement of the musical endeavors of others, which led to many lasting friendships with his fellow composers.
As a member of Boston’s Tanglewood Music Center in 2012, he quickly impressed the composition faculty (especially guest composers George Benjamin and Oliver Knussen, both of whom were captivated by the beauty of his Halazuni wind quintet) and he was invited to return the following year with an order for the prestigious music festival. Shortly after Knussen’s death, Halazuni was scheduled in the 2019 BBC Proms to celebrate the first outing of the Knussen Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Alastair’s longtime friend Ryan Wigglesworth.
Other compositional accomplishments include his marvelous 2014 commission Spiral for the London Symphony Orchestra and a set of exquisite but challenging pieces for children’s choir and harp, Under the Giant Fern of the Night, commissioned to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Finchley Children’s Music Group in 2018. Featuring the poetry of astronomer Rebecca Elson, this work reflects Alastair’s fascination with the universe. He intentionally presented the choir with demanding music and in doing so showed his respect for these gifted young musicians and also allowed their remarkable abilities to be showcased in a packed Queen Elizabeth Hall. The following year, the French premiere of Under the Giant Fern of the Night was broadcast live from Chartres Cathedral on French television, performed by the Maîtrise de Radio France.
Alastair was a loyal and caring friend, gregarious and friendly (he was often the first in the bar after a concert). Known for his colorful dress sense, his sometimes provocative views, his fabulous cooking and his devilish crossword puzzles, he nevertheless remained modest about his own accomplishments and talents.
During his final months, Alastair struggled with severe mental illness; despite the best efforts of his family and friends, he succumbed to his illness and chose not to continue.
He is survived by his wife, pianist Anyssa Neumann, whom he married in 2015, his parents, his sisters, Laura and Ellie, and two nephews.