Oscar-Winning Composer Rachel Portman Releases New Track 'Much Loved
Rachel Portman, the Academy Award-winning composer and pianist, reveals second track, "much loved," from her upcoming lyrical all-instrumental collection, ask the river, out May 8 via Node Records, and available now to pre-order HERE.
"I was searching to write something very tender and gentle around the notion of love," says Rachel Portman. "Love of the beauty of nature and wildlife, as well as love for human others. It seemed it needed to be very still, which is how it starts and ends and to allow it to be very simple without too many notes - this can be a challenge as it doesn't want to seem simplistic. The music almost holds its breath at the beginning and then gradually releases and opens out as it progresses. The cellist Caroline Dale brings great tenderness and beauty in her playing. I gave this piece as a gift to my daughter Giulia."
Portman is best known to listeners for her musical scores heard in more than 100 major motion pictures. She received an Oscar for her work on Douglas McGrath's 1996 adaptation of Jane Austen's Emma, and also collected nominations for the scores for Lasse Halleström's The Cider House Rules (1999) and Chocolat (2000). Her music for the HBO television feature Bessie (2015) was honored with a Primetime Emmy Award.
With ask the river, the British musician steps to center stage for the first time, with an album of thematically related pieces inspired by her closely held personal concerns.
She says, "I have a deep interest in environmentalism and protecting the natural world that surrounds us. I've written quite extensively and been involved in concert work about the environment and about listening to the earth. I also have a desire to work on projects where I'm free to create my ideas from scratch. I've been on this trail for quite a while but hadn't ever put together an album of my own work and performed it myself."
Several earlier compositions by Portman have addressed the subject matter that underlies ask the river. In 2007, The Water Diviner's Tale, a choral symphony written with Owen Sheers, was commissioned for the BBC Proms concerts. The orchestral piece Endangered debuted at the World Environmental Day Concert in Beijing in 2012. And Earth Song, penned with poet Nick Drake, was commissioned for and performed by the BBC Singers in 2019; its libretto drew from Greta Thunberg's headline-making address at the 2019 World Economic Forum in Davos.
Portman spent 18 months composing 13 new pieces, which palpably conjure up the setting in which they were written.
"I split my life between London and the countryside," she says, "spending a lot of time on a small farm which I am gently in the process of rewilding - so no intensive farming practices - with a view to encouraging regeneration of bird and insect life. It has a stream running through it, and when I'm there I can lose myself amongst the trees, in the grasses and under the sky. That really has been my inspiration for ask the river along with a desire to feel deeply connected within nature - for me, it's about respecting nature as part of ourselves."
Not only did Portman write and produce ask the river, but she also took the unprecedented step of playing piano on the recording.
"I've never performed before," Portman says. "I've always been behind the scenes. It's an absolute first for me. While I play the piano most of every day because it's the friend that I'm with as I'm writing, I've never put myself forward to do that on a recording. I realised with this collection of personal pieces that I had to do it. These are very much my pieces, so it needed to be me who was expressing them."
On seven of the album's tracks, Portman is accompanied by two well-traveled classical musicians whose playing has graced countless film soundtracks: violinist Clio Gould and cellist Caroline Dale.
The release of ask the river was prefaced by the release of a lead-off track, "leaves and trees," that you can listen to and purchase HERE, and an accompanying video that you can watch HERE. The piece then debuted in March at England's Hastings International Piano Festival, as part of a larger retrospective of Portman's work. The recorded version features her intricately overdubbed piano work.