Rachel Portman

b. 1960

British

Summary

Born in west Sussex, England, Rachel Portman began composing at age 14 and read music at Oxford University. She gained experience writing music for drama in BBC and Channel 4 films including Mike Leigh's Four Days In July and Jim Henson's Storyteller series.

Portman has written over 100 scores for film, television and theatre. She was the first female composer to win an Academy Award for her original score for Emma. She has received two further Academy nominations for The Cider House Rules and Chocolat, the latter also earned her a Golden Globe nomination.

For the stage and concert hall she has written an opera based on Saint Exupery's The Little Prince (2003) for Houston Grand Opera and the climate change inspired The Water Diviner's Tale (2007), a dramatic choral symphony for the BBC Proms. She has regularly collaborated with acclaimed author Sir Michael Morpurgo together they wrote the Christmas carol We were there (2014) for the Royal Livepool Philharmonic Orchestra and Youth Chorus. Endangered (2012), is an orchestral work commissioned by the National Centre for the Performing Arts, Beijing, for the the World Environment Day Concert in 2013. In 2019 Portman wrote Earth Song for the BBC Singers with text by poet Nick Drake and which also quotes Greta Thunberg. Portman scored the BBC1 animated Christmas special Mimi and the Mountain Dragon (2019) and in February 2020 recorded her first album as compser pianist for Node Records. Portman was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 2010.

Twitter: @rpcomposer
Instagram: @rachelportmancomposer
rachelportman.co.uk


Podcast: Composing Myself - Wise Music Group’s CEO Dave Holley and Creative Director Gill Graham chat to Rachel Portman.

Critical Acclaim
Rachel's scores run deep, adding levels of unexpected texture, mood and emotion. (Broadcast Music Inc)

Biography

Rachel Portman was born in west Sussex, England. She began composing at the age of 14 and read music at Oxford University. Whilst there, she became interested in writing music for student films and theatre productions. She gained experience writing music for drama in BBC and Channel 4 films such as Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, Mike Leigh's Four Days In July and Jim Henson's Storyteller series. She is the first female composer to win an Academy award for her original score for Emma. She also received Academy nominations for Chocolat and Ciderhouse Rules, which also earned her a Golden Globe Nomination. 

Having scored over 100 films, Portman also enjoys writing for the concert hall and the stage. Her composing voice is unmistakable and brings with it wonderful characterisation and emotional depth. Her Opera based on Antoine St Exupery's The Little Prince was commissioned by Houston Grand Opera and premiered in 2003.  Such is the appeal of the work the BBC decided to film Francesca Zambello's production, featuring a young Joseph McManners who came to light through a nationwide search for the young person who would play the role of The Little Prince. The opera has since been widely performed in the USA and continental Europe.  

Portman's music is often inspired by nature and the environment and, for over a decade, an increasing concern for the climate.  Following its premiere at the BBC Proms in 2007, her dramatic choral symphony The Water Diviner's Tale was described in The Guardian as "a call to arms for the younger generation to tackle climate change". The text is by award winning poet Owen Sheers who tells the story of the travelling water diviner sharing his stories with a group of lost children and with the assistance from adult soloists, choir and orchestra, the music gives an emotional voice to the science behind climate change while seeking to inspire both the performers and the audience, to question our relationship with the earth. 

In 2012 Portman was one of three world renowned composers invited by the National Centre for the Performing Arts in Beijing to write an orchestral piece that would be performed to celebrate Wolrd Environment Day in June 2013.  The resulting work Endangered, which needs no introduction, was Portman's response.  In 2019, a writing partnership with poet and writer Nick Drake produced Earth Song for the BBC Singers and girl soprano. Portman and Drake wanted to create something that could embrace the earth's quality in a contemplative way and that could express the earth's voice if we could find a place of stillness to really listen. The girl soprano, singing words by Greta Thunberg, interpolates her message between each verse, entreating us to listen.  The piece closes with silence, inviting the audience to listen, implicating thems in the work.

One of Portman's friends and collaborator is the acclaimed author Sir Michael Morpurgo.  They met when she scored the music to the film of one of Morpurgo's books Private Peaceful. In 2014 they wrote the carol We Were There for the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and youth chorus. Their next collaboration stayed with the Christmas theme- a music led animated Christmas special based on Sir Michael's book Mimi And The Mountain Dragon telling the story of a little girl called Mimi who, with her song and her courage, saves her village from its fears. It was commissioned and produced by Leopard Films, Factory Create and BBC Music. It screened on BBC1 on 26th December 2019 with simultaneous Decca release of the soundtrack performed by The BBC Philharmonic, the Halle's Family of choirs with soloists Esther Greaves and Claire Martin andconducted by Scott Dunn. The film can also be played in concert with live orchestra and choirs.

In February 2020 Portman recorded her first ever album as pianist and composer, soon to be released on Node Records. Future projects include a collaboration with Joyce DiDonato and Phelim McDermott, an opera with author Patrick Ness and a theatre piece with choreographer and director Will Tuckett.

Portman  was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2010 New Year Honours and is an honorary fellow of Worcester College, Oxford and of The Royal College of Music in London. She was the subject of BBC Radio 3 Composer of the Week in 2017.


News

Performances

1st August 2024

PERFORMERS
Victoria Symphony
CONDUCTOR
Giuseppe Pietraroia
LOCATION
Butchart Gardens, Victoria, BC, Canada

2nd August 2024

PERFORMERS
Victoria Symphony
CONDUCTOR
Giuseppe Pietraroia
LOCATION
Cameron Bandshell, Victoria, BC, Canada

29th August 2024

SOLOISTS
Joyce DiDonato, mezzosoprano
PERFORMERS
Il Pomo d’Oro
CONDUCTOR
Maxim Emelyanychev
LOCATION
Turku Concert Hall, Turku, Finland

19th February 2025

PERFORMERS
Pacific Opera Victoria
LOCATION
Royal Theatre, Victoria, BC, Canada

21st February 2025

PERFORMERS
Pacific Opera Victoria
LOCATION
Royal Theatre, Victoria, BC, Canada

Features

  • Our Earth | Focus on...Climate Change
    • Our Earth | Focus on...Climate Change
    • Celebrate the environmental consciousness of Wise Music Group composers as we explore the meeting of art and activism in compositions which echo the urgent call of our planet.
  • Celebrating Women Composers
  • Explore music by women for dance
    • Explore music by women for dance
    • In response to requests from choreographers, dance and ballet companies we invite you to explore music in multiple styles and genres by women at the height of their composing game. From Missy Mazzoli, Maja Ratkje and Helen Grime, to Joan Tower, Kaija Saariaho, Gloria Coates and the new generation Hania Rani and Lisa Morgenstern, we are sure there’s something for everyone in this first in a series of specially curated features.
  • The Best Recordings of 2023 from Wise Music Classical
  • 'Composing Myself' podcast by Wise Music
    • 'Composing Myself' podcast by Wise Music
    • Composing Myself is an official Wise Music Group podcast series celebrating Wise Music’s 50th anniversary, presented by CEO Dave Holley and Creative Director Gill Graham. Over the course of this series, they talk to various Wise Music published composers around the world about their lives in and out of music along with excerpts of the composers works included in the podcasts.

Photos

Discography