Paul Sartin, 1971-2022

I’m devastated by the sudden death of dear friend and frequent artistic collaborator Paul Sartin. Paul was an extraordinary musician and composer, a warm and supportive teacher and a witty, courteous, generous and deeply devoted friend. I first met him through Jon Boden, and followed with pleasure and pride his extraordinary career with Bellowhead and other award-winning folk bands. He wrote and performed exquisite music for my productions of Antony and Cleopatra, As You Like It and Cymbeline, King of Britain; we spoke earlier in the week about the next project we were going to do together, Lorca’s Blood Wedding. And now, unbelievably, he’s gone.

Paul was always brilliant to work with: patient and encouraging with singers and musicians of all levels, he brought the best out of all the students in our shows; and as an instinctive and generous creative collaborator, he was always able to burnish the aesthetics of a dramatic moment to glittering brilliance, and enhance and escalate its emotional impact. His music was precise, exciting, authentic and steeped in thoughtfulness: profoundly aware of tradition, playfully daring to be new. So many beautiful melodies, never played before, now will never be.

Above is a sadly imperfect phone video of technical rehearsal for Paul’s showstopper in our last collaboration, Cymbeline. An angular and challenging piece of music involving precise disharmonies performed by Zoë Clayton-Kelly and Jessica Bank, it’s fittingly a rendering of one of Shakespeare’s most beautiful lyrics about death:

Fear no more the heat o’the sun, nor the furious winter’s rages;

Thou thy worldly task hast done: home art gone, and ta’en thy wages.

Golden lads and girls all must, as chimney sweepers, come to dust;

The sceptre, learning, physic must all follow this and come to dust;

All lovers young, all lovers must consign to thee, and come to dust.

Below, a video of Paul as I will always remember him from the deeply privileged position I had of simply watching him work, effortlessly spinning beauty from the harmony of human voices: a setting of the Unst Boat Song in rehearsal for the same production.

What indescribable loss. May his memory be a blessing.