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May 24, 2010
Rachel Portman Honored by BMI
English composer is first female Kirk Award winner by Jon Burlingame

Rachel Portman

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif.—English composer Rachel Portman became the first woman to win BMI's top honor for film and TV composers Wednesday night, May 19, at the Regent Beverly Wilshire.

Portman received the Richard Kirk Award, given annually by Broadcast Music Inc. to a distinguished composer for career achievement. All 24 previous recipients have been male. In her acceptance speech, Portman said she hoped she would be "the first of many."

Speaking to a crowd of 700 of her Hollywood colleagues, Portman said she felt "incredibly lucky. Writing music is quite simply the best job to have on a film. We composers get to come in at the very end and add a layer of emotion and energy that, if you don't screw it up, can literally transform a movie."

Portman – who also became the first woman to win an Academy Award for original score for Emma (1996) – said in an interview earlier in the evening that "I never think of myself as a female composer when I write, but just as a composer." Asked to choose a favorite among her 50-odd movie assignments, she chose The Cider House Rules (1999) as "most dear to me."

BMI President and CEO Del Bryant noted that "this is not the first time that Rachel Portman has broken new ground, and made very little of it.... For her, the issue of gender is irrelevant in the creation of her music.... In a quarter-century of working in an undeniably male-dominated profession, she has consistently beaten the odds."

Clips from several Portman movies were screened, including her Oscar-nominated Cider House Rules and Chocolat, her Emmy-nominated Grey Gardens, and others (Nicholas Nickleby, Oliver Twist, The Duchess, Beloved, The Joy Luck Club, The Manchurian Candidate and the forthcoming Never Let Me Go).

Several directors contributed video reminiscences including Doug McGrath (Emma), who called Portman's contributions "unique and invaluable"; Wayne Wang (The Joy Luck Club), who praised her sense of melody and restraint in avoiding sentimentality; Robert Benton (The Human Stain), who cited her ability to write music that did not "illustrate the emotions, but added another level, a sense of depth"; and Michael Sucsy (Grey Gardens), who remembered "standing on the stage, bawling," at one of her most emotional cues for his film.

Terence Blanchard
Jazz trumpeter and composer Terence Blanchard received BMI's Classic Contribution Award "in recognition of his dedicated work in his hometown of New Orleans and with the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz." Blanchard, also known as composer for many Spike Lee movies (including Malcolm X, 25th Hour, Inside Man and the HBO Katrina documentary When the Levees Broke), continues to teach and mentor young jazz musicians.

"He is as inspiring a teacher as he is an artist," said BMI Vice President, Film/TV Relations Doreen Ringer Ross, adding, "he gives back... he speaks the truth with kindness... he makes a difference."

In accepting the award, Blanchard said "it's really about what you do. It's about the lives you touch with your music" and said that, within the BMI fold, "it doesn't feel like an industry, it feels like a family."

Bryant said that BMI currently represents more than 76 percent of the music in television prime-time. Among TV award winners on hand were Danny Elfman and Steve Jablonsky (Desperate Housewives), Blake Neely (The Mentalist, Brothers & Sisters), David Buckley (The Good Wife), Nathan Barr (True Blood), Snuffy Walden and The Beach Boys' Mike Love (Men of a Certain Age), Rolfe Kent and Daniel Licht (Dexter).

Film award winners attending included Aaron Zigman (The Proposal, The Ugly Truth, Why Did I Get Married Too?, The Last Song), Alan Silvestri (A Christmas Carol), Elfman (Alice in Wonderland, Terminator: Salvation, The Wolfman), David Newman (Alvin & the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel), George S. Clinton (The Tooth Fairy), Mark Mothersbaugh (Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs), Mychael Danna (The Time Traveler's Wife), and Kent (Up in the Air).

©2010 Jon Burlingame
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