Trans-Siberian Orchestra brings its glittery musical storytelling to the Springs

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It ain’t the holiday season without some Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Catch them Sunday at the World Arena.

Bob Carey

Over its first two decades, Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s shows have become easily the biggest and most elaborate of the holiday tours. It was all the vision of the group’s founder, Paul O’Neill who passed away in 2017.

O’Neill’s concept was to combine a rock band with an orchestra playing concept albums/rock operas with cohesive storylines. Instead of building an image around a singer, guitarist or conductor, the ensemble would use multiple singers and a range of instrumentalists who would remain largely anonymous to listeners.

Plenty of industry people questioned whether TSO could be viable financially. O’Neill took a meticulous approach to making albums, searching for the perfect singers to voice the characters in his lyrical stories and bringing in whatever types of instrumentalists his music required — steps that expanded the recording timelines and budgets. As for touring, taking such a large musical group on the road with the kind of high-tech visual show O’Neill envisioned would be expensive as well. To accommodate the visual production, TSO had to play arenas from the start — something no music act had done.

Nevertheless, Atlantic Records got on board with O’Neill’s vision and signed TSO. The label has been rewarded, as the trilogy of lyrically themed Christmas albums all became hits and continue to rack up Top 10 sales among holiday albums each Christmas season.

The first release was 1996’s Christmas Eve and Other Stories. Spurred by the hit single “Christmas Eve Sarajevo 12/24,” it has sold 3 million copies and set the stage for the other two holiday rock operas that make up the trilogy — The Christmas Attic (1998) and The Lost Christmas Eve (2004) — which have each topped 2 million copies sold. The group also released a Christmas EP, 2012’s Dreams of Fireflies (On a Christmas Night), and three full-length non-holiday rock operas — Beethoven’s Last Night (2000), Night Castle (2009) and Letters from the Labyrinth (2015). In all, the group’s CDs and DVDs have sold more than 12 million copies and generated 180 million streams in 2021 alone.

The group’s annual Christmas trek is easily the most popular holiday tour going. Since its debut in 1999, the holiday tours have played to about 18 million fans and grossed $725 million.

The entire TSO organization, of course, misses O’Neill. But Jeff Plate, musical director for TSO’s eastern U.S. touring unit, says O’Neill and his family surrounded themselves with a stellar team that knows every part of the operation.

“Paul told us many, many, many times this thing is going to outlive us all and it’s going to last from generation to generation,” says Plate. “Thinking for a moment that it would be without him was not in any of our thoughts. When it happened, it’s like ‘Well guys, we know what to do. We know what the job is.’ We know Paul would ask certain things of us throughout the years and you learn what the guy expects out of you and the show and everybody involved in the show. We are as protective of this as anybody. I cherish every time we go out there, every note we play. We’re doing it for, not just for the audience, but for Paul and his family, and it means a lot to us.”

This year’s show finds TSO performing The Ghosts of Christmas Eve, the 2001 DVD that combined the most popular songs from Christmas Eve and Other Stories and The Christmas Attic.

Ghosts will take up most of the first half of the show, followed by a second part that draws on selections from across the TSO catalog. Because many of the most popular songs will be performed in the first part, Plate, Western U.S. Musical Director Al Pitrelli, and the musicians had room for some songs this year that haven’t often been performed on past tours.

“We have a lot of conversations. Everybody will throw their ideas in,” says Pitrelli about crafting the set list. “We have such a large catalog of material to draw from, almost 28 years of recording, all of a sudden a song will pop up, like wow, I haven’t heard that song in so long. Let’s try that this year. So it’s just a lot of that.”

One thing Pitrelli and Plate couldn’t speak to is how this year’s visual effects and stage set will be bigger and different from last year.

This interview was conducted in October, a short time before they joined the band for production rehearsals. It’s only then that they see the full stage production for the first time.

“You look up, and I always feel like a 15-year-old walking into that arena for the first time,” says Pitrelli. “It really turns you back into a teenager. But this time I’m not getting chased out by security or the police, so it’s lot more fun standing there looking up and going ‘This is awesome.’”

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