No aspect of "Kundun" is more exciting than its music, composed by Philip Glass in an imaginative extension of the minimalist style he pioneered more than 30 years ago. Like most of Glass's scores, it weaves simple melodies and pulsing rhythms into high-energy patterns that accumulate near-overwhelming power at key moments in the story - most notably the last 20 minutes, as the Dalai Lama leaves Tibet for a new home that promises renewed physical and spiritual resources.
Not all great movie scores make excellent listening outside the theater, of course, and "Kundun" sounds more impressive in conjunction with Martin Scorsese's film than on the CD released by Nonesuch this month. Excerpts from the score were also among the less-resonant moments of two Lincoln Center concerts presented by the Philip Glass Ensemble recently. These programs reached their highest peaks in selections from earlier works like the operas "Einstein on the Beach" and "Akhnetan."
This notwithstanding, "Kundun" renews Glass's longtime enthusiasm for the traditions of Eastern religion, reflected in his music since his earliest works. It also initiates a particularly busy time for this continually active musician. He and director Robert Wilson are preparing the Los Angeles premire of "Monsters of Grace," a new music-theater work coming this spring. Nonesuch is readying a box set of 10 Glass CDs along with extensive photos and essays. PBS will broadcast "Sessions at West 54th Street," featuring the Glass ensemble, in the coming year.
In addition, Glass and the ensemble are following up their Lincoln Center concerts with a wide-ranging tour of "Les Enfants Terribles: Children of the Game," his invigorating opera based on Jean Cocteau's classic movie. It's slated for 21 cities including Detroit; Pittsburgh; Nashville; Berkeley, Calif.; Los Angeles; Houston; Austin, Texas; and Philadelphia. The tour will end in Mexico City in January.