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Fulcrum Point Orchestra Lends Live Soundtrack to 80s Flick 'Altered States'

SOUTH LOOP — You don't have to be watching the cult classic "Rocky Horror Picture Show" to catch a film screening with a live performance aspect.

The Fulcrum Point orchestra has been doing it for 15 years now — but don't compare them to that other show, famous for poking fun at the movie that serves as its backdrop.

"'Rocky Horror' is more of a singalong. ... The live aspect of the performance came out of the fanaticism of the people who love the film and started dressing up like the characters," said Stephen Burns, the orchestra's founder and artistic director. "This is more along the lines of an opera, where you have the orchestra in a pit, but in this case they're on stage. It's not just a rock show with a couple of musicians."

Burns created the Fulcrum Point New Music Project in 1998, when he was the Artist in Residence with Performing Arts Chicago. His goal: championing classical music inspired by pop culture, jazz, rock, blues, folk, Klezmer and other unlikely influences.

Live movie soundtracks have been a cornerstone of the orchestra's monthly showcases for several years. But Burns says he's never been more excited for a film showcase than he is for their upcoming staging of "Altered States," a 1980 science fiction classic scored by one of Burns' favorite composers, John Corigliano.

"When I first saw [the film], I kept turning around to my friends that were with me like, 'Do you hear this music?'" Burns said. "This is the most beautiful, the most powerful, the most intense music you've ever heard, because it just keeps changing styles, and takes you on a wonderful adventure."

The movie follows a Harvard professor who takes hallucinogenic mushrooms while studying their religious use among a Native American tribe in Mexico.

"In the process of doing this, he discovers the secrets of his unconscious and takes a trip back to the origins of mankind," Burns said. "What makes this movie so special is that it's sci-fi, clearly, but at the same time there's this love story that runs through it. ... A composer like John Corigliano is so crucial because it goes from being completely psychedelic, freakazoid music one minute to a romantic score at the next, and makes that transition seamlessly."

A 100-member orchestra will perform the complete score live at 7 p.m. April 23 at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance as part of a citywide, four-day festival celebrating Corigliano's 75th birthday.

Corigliano himself plans to stop by the "Forever Young" festival, Monday to April 25, which also includes an all-brass show, music salons and more.

The composer will lead discussion of the "Altered States" score, for which he earned an Oscar nomination, at the Harris Theater after the Fulcrum Point musical performance next Tuesday.

"Of all the film music we've ever done, this is the largest undertaking," Burns said. "For our core group of musicians ... it's more than just a gig. It's a real passion for them to create what the future of classical music will be."