Michel Portal

French clarinettist, saxophonist and composer (Bayonne, 1935)

Musician of many talents, Michel Portal is an eclectic instrumentalist who shines as much in classical music than in jazz. Interpret of Mozart, Brahms, Berg, Boulez, Stockhausen, Berio, Kagel and of cinema composers awarded many times, Michel Portal is also one of the most remarkable French and European jazz musicians of the 20th century.

Michel Portal entered the Paris Conservatoire to study clarinet and conducting with Pierre Dervaux. He won in 1959 the first prize of clarinet. Would follow the first prize at the Geneva International Music Competition and the Swiss Jubilee in 1963. Before turning to jazz, he started his career in the classical music field. Very fond of contemporary music, Michel Portal tried hard to defend and promote pieces of Kagel, Stockhausen, Berio, and Boulez. He joined the ensemble Musique Vivante of Diego Masson.

In 1968, Michel Portal started the “free” movement in France and worked with François Tusques on the album “Free Jazz”. A year later, he focused on contemporary music and got involved in the creation of Aus den sieben Tagen of Stockhausen. He founded in 1971 his own musical ensemble, the “Michel Portal Unit”, and welcomed American and European musicians favouring the free improvisation. He subsequently became one of the main figures of that movement. He was the subject of a “portrait” on Radio France in 1995 and played the same year in an international creation the clarinet concerto of Franco Donatoni and in 2006 the double concerto of Wolfgang Rihm. In parallel to his career as a concert artist and a pioneer in the free improvisation, Michel Portal acquired a solid reputation as a soundtrack composer and got many orders.

Renowned artist in the jazz world but also on the classical music scene, Michel Portal played alongside classical musicians like Maria João Pires, Bruno Canino and Michel Dalberto and jazz musicians like the pianists Bojan Zulfikarpasic and Jacky Terrasson, the accordionist Richard Galliano, the drummer Daniel Humair and the double bass players Bob Guérin and Henri Texier.

Six landmark dates in the life of Michel Portal

1968: Recorded « Free Jazz » with François Tusques

1969: Co-founded the band New Phonic

1983: Got the Grand prix National de la Musique

1985, 1986 & 1988: Got the César for the best movie soundtrack

2005: Got the Prix in Honorem from the Académie Charles Cros

2006: Rewarded at the Victoires de la musique classique for the best French recording

Radio France Musical Documentation Biography