Rachel Portman


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 wrote music for student film and theatre productions. Thereafter she wrote music for the BBC series Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, Mike Leigh’s films Four Days In July and Life is Sweet as well as 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 The Cider House Rules, which also earned her a Golden Globe Nomination.

With over a 100 films she also writes for the concert hall.  Her composing voice is unmistakable and brings with it unique 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. Soon after the BBC filmed Francesca Zambello's production, featuring a young Joseph McManners who came to light through a nationwide search for the young person to play 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 an increasing concern for the climate and the Earth.  Her dramatic choral symphony The Water Diviner's Tale which premiered at the BBC Proms in 2007 was described in The Guardian as "a call to arms for the younger generation to tackle climate change". It 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 voice to the science behind climate change while seeking to inspire both us all to question our relationship with the earth.

In 2012 the National Centre for the Performing Arts in Beijing commissioned Portman to write an orchestral piece – Endangered- performed on World Environment Day in June 2013. In 2019, a writing partnership with poet and writer Nick Drake produced Earth Song for the BBC Singers and girl soprano. They found a contemplative way to 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.

One of Portman's friends and collaborator is the acclaimed author Sir Michael Morpurgo.  They met when she scored the film of his book Private Peaceful. In 2014 they wrote the carol We Were There for the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and youth chorus. Then in 2019 they worked on a music led animated Christmas special based on Sir Michael's book Mimi And The Mountain Dragon. 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 orchestra’s choirs with soloists Esther Greaves and Claire Martin, conducted by Scott Dunn.

In March 2020 Portman released her first album as pianist and composer entitled Ask The River.  Three years later she recorded her second solo piano album of arrangements of her most cherished film music including Chocolat, The Cider House Rules, The Duchess and a suite from her score to her Oscar score Emma.

Recent projects include the score to the CNN biopic Julia for which she won the Emmy for outstanding music composition, the score for Uberto Pasolini’s The Return starring Ralph Feinnes and Juliette Binoche and Tipping Points for violinist Niklas Liepe, actor and orchestra. A concerto in six movements interwoven with new poems by Nick Drake. It’s a strong statement for the Earth and the environment. The music was released on Sony Classical in March 2024.

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.