Rachel Portman Showreel
Composing Myself: Rachel Portman
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 themselves 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 and conducted 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.