During the past few months, she’s received a lifetime achievement award from BMI and Prince Charles has presented her with the Order of the British Empire at Buckingham Palace. Now, with the release of one of the most talked-about films of late summer (“Never Let Me Go”), Rachel Portman ranks atop anyone’s list of female film composers in both the U.S. and U.K.
The first woman to receive an Academy Award for an original score (“Emma,” 1996), Portman has enjoyed a stellar comeback year after a long layoff from films during which she composed an opera (“The Little Prince”), an oratorio about climate change (“The Water Diviner’s Tale”) and a stage musical (“Little House on the Prairie”). “I’ve explored so much in other mediums in the last few years that I really want to focus on films for a while,” she says by phone from London.
Portman, whose other scores include “The Cider House Rules” and “Chocolat,” returned this year with music for “Never Let Me Go,” with its haunting cello solos and rich string passages underscoring a drama about young people who don’t realize their fates are decided from birth. Due next year is her fourth film with director Wayne Wang, “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan,” for which she used — sparingly, she notes — the Chinese pipa and erhu (both stringed instruments) for a story set in 19th century China.
Also upcoming are “The Vow,” for director Michael Sucsy; “Bel Ami,” with “Twilight” heartthrob Robert Pattinson; and “His Way,” a documentary about producer Jerry Weintraub.