Composer Follows Family Tradition


Genie Lee, Editor

Inspired by film sound tracks and her family’s musical tastes, senior Zoe Portnoff has been composing instrumental music since her junior year. Already, her work has been performed in concerts by the Campolindo orchestra.

Portnoff focuses on composing jazz and classical music for wind and string instruments.

“I’ve sort of got a musical history in my family,” said Portnoff. She grew up listening to recordings composed by her great grandfather, Leo Portnoff, who created pieces such as “Russian Fantasia No. 2.”

“I love the idea of basically being able to make emotions and the idea of also music being a universal language,” said Portnoff.

Portnoff said that Johnny Johnson’s AP music theory class, which she took as a junior, helped her dig deeper into the art of composition. The class required students to create original pieces. “Being in music theory and doing those projects really inspired me to look further into it and I just really enjoyed it, so that inspired me to take it further,” she said.

Portnoff used a computer to compose her first piece. “The first time I composed for actual people to play was my Theme and Variations project for the music theory class, and that was actually played at the spring concert by four people from the orchestra and my friend, Valerie Rockwell, who played flute on it,” said Portnoff.

“I love her music…She’s been composing for a long time so it’s really exciting to see her get to express herself in that way. Jazz music calls for composing on the fly as you’re playing, so I think that has definitely helped her,” said Rockwell.

Portnoff has over 10 completed arrangements thus far and several other works in progress. Portnoff is currently composing a jazz piece for the chamber final for symphonic band.