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composer

Rachel Portman has been scoring films since the 1980s, and in 1997 became the first woman ever to win an Oscar for best original score for her work on Douglas McGrath's Emma. Since then, Portman has scored dozens more films and TV shows, but is now stepping away from the screen with ask the river, her first album of music not written for a movie, TV show or stage production.

"There were hardly any female film composers," Portman says of winning an Oscar at that time.

Some people respond to suffering by turning it into art. That's true even with the harrowing experience of a pandemic.

In the early 1400s, an Englishman named John Cooke composed Stella celi, a hymn to the Virgin Mary referencing the Black Plague which, according to some sources, wiped out half of Europe. Its text speaks of the "ulcers of a terrible death" but also the assurance that "the star of heaven ... has rooted out the plague."

Krzysztof Penderecki, one of the world's leading composers, died Sunday at the age of 86. The Polish Ministry of Affairs announced his passing in a tweet. No cause of death was given.

The Polish-born composer established himself while still in his 20s with jarring atonal works such as Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima, and came to be widely admired by music fans and musicians far outside traditional classical music circles.

Gabriela Ortiz's Yanga had its world premiere late last month at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. Ortiz is one of Mexico's most sought-after classical composers and her work has been performed by musicians all over the world, from soprano Dawn Upshaw to the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic to Kronos Quartet.

Argentinean born composer Osvaldo Golijov recently premiered his new song cycle, “Falling Out of Time,” at the College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts, where he’s also a professor of music.

The poignant work is based on David Grossman’s soul-piercing book about a couple grieving the death of their child.

Albany Records

In 1993, composer and violinist Mark O’Connor  wrote “The Fiddle Concerto.” O’Connor, an award-winning fiddle, mandolin, and guitar virtuoso, successfully integrated country fiddling into a symphonic work that, with the help of Warner Bros. Records and classical radio stations hungry for new American sounds, became a crossover hit.

The new movie Joker is a psychological character study of a lonely, disturbed man who turns violent. Dark, chaotic, unconventional — all descriptions that would make sense for a movie about one of the most infamous and unpredictable villains in comic book history. But in fact, director Todd Phillips wanted this Joker, played by Joaquin Phoenix, to inspire empathy. To give this comic book character human depth, director Todd Phillips brought in a composer who could transform darkness into sensitive musicality.

One of the most prominent composers of the late 20th century has died. Giya Kancheli was from Georgia — and the music he wrote, whether for films or for the concert hall, was full of light, shade and an incandescent longing. He died Wednesday at age 84 in his home city, the Georgian capital of Tbilisi. Kancheli's death was announced by his longtime record label, ECM; his son, Sandro Kancheli, told NPR that his father had suffered from heart failure for a long time.

Composer Christopher Rouse, who once called himself a writer of "fast and furious" music and who taught courses in the history of rock, died Saturday of complications of renal cancer at age 70.

Courtesy photo

Composer John Lunn didn’t start writing music for films and television programs until he was 32. Two decades after he began that journey, American audiences fell in love with the Crawleys – and Lunn’s memorable themes – from “Downton Abbey,” the ITV/PBS program that follows an aristocratic family through the first decades of the 20th century.

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