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Section Header
Composed and Orchestrated by:
Philip Glass

Produced by:
Kurt Munkacsi

Conducted by:
Michael Riesman

Nonesuch Records

Release Date:
November 25th, 1997

Also See:
Seven Years in Tibet
The Illusionist

Audio Clips:
1. Sand Mandala (0:30):
WMA (193K)  MP3 (238K)
Real Audio (147K)

9. Norbu Plays (0:30):
WMA (193K)  MP3 (238K)
Real Audio (147K)

14. Thirteenth Dalai Lama (0:30):
WMA (197K)  MP3 (242K)
Real Audio (150K)

18. Escape to India (0:30):
WMA (197K)  MP3 (242K)
Real Audio (150K)

Regular U.S. release.

  Nominated for a Golden Globe and an Academy Award.

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Sales Rank: 39330

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Buy it... only if you are familiar and comfortable with Philip Glass' tendency to endlessly explore the subtlies of a situation with introspective and subdued rhythms, marginal harmony, and only slight development of motifs.

Avoid it... if you expect anything other than a deeply respectful and minimalistic musical tribute to a troubling period in Buddhist culture.

Kundun: (Philip Glass) What Kundun proves beyond any reasonable doubt is that there's a fine line between an artistic, intellectual biographical film and a boring waste of two hours. Director Martin Scorsese used a script significantly influenced by the Dalai Lama himself and told the life story of the Buddhist leader from the time of his "discovery" at the age of two (in 1937). The guidance of this, the 14th Dalai Lama, would respond to China's decision to invade and take control of Tibet, forcing him with the prospect of fleeing his nation for his own safety. Scorsese was not known in the mainstream for this kind of film, and for the mass majority of audiences, Kundun and its cast of unknown Tibetans failed to muster the passion necessary to expand the reach of the topic's appeal beyond those who already held a great reverence for the history of the region. The score by Philip Glass addressed the story with the same serious intensity with which Scorsese approached the rest of the production. Glass was still relatively unknown until the Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations (and a win from the Los Angeles Film Critics for "best score") for Kundun gave him enough fame in Hollywood to launch a successful arthouse film scoring career outside of his already established classical writing. Scorsese was particularly interested in working with Glass on Kundun because of the composer's Buddhist faith and extensive Tibetan knowledge. It's not surprising, therefore, that the resulting score for Kundun is very intelligent in its adaptation of vocal and instrumental sounds from the region. The highly cyclical and minimalist nature of Glass' foundation for these elements was somewhat intoxicating in the context of the film at the time, though subsequent scores by Glass through the years have clearly identified the somewhat monotonous cyclical rhythms as a trademark of the composer's writing that, in retrospect, steals some of the uniqueness from the score for Kundun. The staggered progressions of instrumental solos over a bed of string alternations have become all too common in Glass' subsequent efforts for film, causing Kundun to now rely upon its colorful ensemble to distinguish itself from other Glass scores to follow.

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One of the most interesting aspects of Kundun to consider at the time was its concurrent release with John Williams' score for 1997's other Dalai Lama film, Seven Years in Tibet. The two works, despite merging Western and Eastern elements and featuring Gyuto Monks as the representation of their ethnicity, are frightfully different in their tone and sense of authenticity. While Williams' score, with the help of Yo-Yo Ma's cello performances, is more pleasing to Western ears, Kundun will be far more challenging for most average film score collectors. It could be argued that Glass' slight touch, with dissonance or inflection in each cue, is a culturally superior representation. Glass does not offer blatant themes, but instead presents a series of simple motifs over string and percussion rhythms typical to his career. Bass tones created by the monks, bassoons, contra bassoons, and Tibetan horns are powerful, but they often meander in pitch, creating an atonal backdrop for whatever wandering line for brass or woodwinds that Glass explores at great length in the treble region. While a few of these motifs do expand in their development throughout the score, the ponderous rhythms do become tiresome outside of the context of the film. Each cue's rhythm is a slight variant of the one that came before, and the ideas typically end abruptly at the conclusion of each album track. Gently thumping drums are mixed in dull fashion in most of the cues, creating a muted soundscape that only dilutes the score's appeal further. The motifs explored early in the score, in "Reting's Eyes" and "Chinese Invade," finally reach a harmonious and resonating crescendo in "Escape to India." The easy highlight of the score, "Escape to India" combines more aggressive string rhythms, as tonally pleasant as they would be in The Illusionist almost a decade later, with a chanting choir and gorgeous flute solos in its latter half. Every idea in the score culminates to one, impressive full ensemble and soloist conclusion that, as usual, ends abruptly. Overall, Glass conveys his respect for Buddhist culture very well in Kundun, but his knack for leaving the listener with nothing more than a generally subdued impression of that culture makes for a tedious album. Kundun will not appeal to most film score fans expecting a Seven Years in Tibet kind of listening experience. Price Hunt: CD or Download

    Score as Written for Film: ****
    Score as Heard on Album: **
    Overall: ***

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 Track Listings: Total Time: 60:22

• 1. Sand Mandala (4:04)
• 2. Northern Tibet (3:21)
• 3. Dark Kitchen (1:32)
• 4. Choosing (2:13)
• 5. Caravan Moves Out (2:55)
• 6. Reting's Eyes (2:18)
• 7. Potala (1:29)
• 8. Lord Chamberlain (2:43)
• 9. Norbu Plays (2:12)
• 10. Norbulingka (2:17)
• 11. Chinese Invade (7:05)
• 12. Fish (2:10)
• 13. Distraught (2:59)
• 14. Thirteenth Dalai Lama (3:23)
• 15. Move to Dungkar (5:04)
• 16. Projector (2:04)
• 17. Lhasa at Night (1:58)
• 18. Escape to India (10:05)

 Notes and Quotes:  

The album is contained within a cardboard slip-cover that features a note from the director about the score. Notable performances listed on the insert include: Michael Riesman (conductor, piano, celeste, synthesizer), Richard Sher (cello), Susan Jolles (harp), Andrew Sterman (piccolo), Carol Wincenc (flute); Henry Schuman (oboe), Steven Hartman (clarinet, bass clarinet), Lauren Goldstein-Stubbs (bassoon, contrabassoon), Sharon Moe (French horn), Wilmer Wise (trumpet), Alan Raph (bass trombone), Dhondup Namgyal Khorko (Tibetan horns, cymbals), Gordon Gottlieb (percussion), Gyuto Monks - Monks of the Drukpa Order. Recorded at The Looking Glass Studios in New York.

  All artwork and sound clips from Kundun are Copyright © 1997, Nonesuch Records. The reviews and other textual content contained on the site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of Filmtracks Publications. Audio clips can be heard using RealPlayer but cannot be redistributed without the label's expressed written consent. Page created 12/19/97 and last updated 3/2/08. Review Version 5.1 (PHP). Copyright © 1997-2015, Christian Clemmensen (Filmtracks Publications). All rights reserved.