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Philip GLASS (b. 1937) & Tenzin CHOEGYAL
The Last Dalai Lama? (Film Score)
Tenzin Choegyal (vocals, lingbu, dranyen, percussion)
Tim Fain (violin)
Philip Glass (piano)
Michael Riesman (piano)
Robert Black (double bass)
Children from Tibetan Childrens’ Village School, Dharamsala, India, Pokhara, Kingdom of Mustang, Nepal
Scorchio Quartet
rec. Mission Sound, New York

The Last Dalai Lama?, released in 2017, is full length documentary on the Dalai Lama, directed by Mickey Lemle, with interviews by family and friends, including George W. Bush, as well as with the Dalai Lama himself.

Not that one would know much of this from the CD. I have drawn attention in previous reviews to the absence of notes and information from OMM, but that absence has rarely been as egregious as here. Even the little given on the back cover lacks such things as date and city of recording, composers’ dates, or the date of the film. Reference is made to the track ‘Snow Lion’ arranged by Katherine Philp, re-arranged by Martha Mooke, and played by the Scorchio Quartet, but the wrong track number is given. One searches in vain for anything on Tenzin Choegyal, a significant figure among Tibetan exiles and a main exponent of his native music. On the track information on the disc (but nowhere one the cover) is the information that the final (and, at almost 15 minutes, by far the longest) track is a live recording from St. John the Divine, presumably the Episcopal Cathedral in New York. A slow, meditative – some might say meandering – piece for solo organ, it has its charms and beauties, but the organist is uncredited.

Tenzin Choegyal is a significant musical figure in the Tibetan diaspora, though I have been unable to discover a precise birth date. His website refers only the early 1970s as the date he fled with his family from occupied Tibet. His family settled in the refugee community in Dharamsala. His instruments are the dranyen (Tibetan flute) and the lingbu, which is a transverse bamboo flute, though the photograph which adorns his biography reveals him playing a stringed instrument. His voice is in no sense that of a classically trained singer in the Western tradition, but the demands of Tibetan music on singers are also different. Many listeners will be impressed by the eloquence of his emotional expression, but as most may well not be Tibetan speakers, the absence of words or translations, his full artistry can be insufficiently appreciated.

It feels as if Glass determinedly and appropriately has chosen in many tracks to subordinate his own distinctive voice to the Tibetan inspiration, which, given the subject of the film as well as Glass’ interest in and support for world music, seems entirely appropriate. One consequence is that this is not an essential purchase for lovers of Glass, but needs to be heard in its own terms, principally for the fascinating world of Tibetan music.

Michael Wilkinson

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