Christmas Eve and Other Stories
Tower Theatre, Upper Darby, PA
Unusual? Possibly. Unexpected? Most likely. Unbelievable? Absolutely! In the pre-Christmas rush of 1996 Atlantic records released a little known recording by the Tran-Siberian Orchestra entitled Christmas Eve and Other Stories. Radio markets responded to its hip yet traditional orchestration. A video of the album’s eighth track, Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24, broke through to several major television markets. Combined with radio, a hit was born.
The Trans-Siberian Orchestra (or TSO to the fans) is a cross-culture phenomenon orchestrating elements of traditional Christmas numbers with popular classical arrangements the success of which has caught even the musician in the group off guard. In 1998, following the platinum sales of the first disc, TSO released a second, The Christmas Attic, which was received with equal enthusiasm. This season saw TSO take their magic on the road in a secession of sold out performances. “It’s a little weird,” explains guitarist and assistant musical director, Al Pitrelli. “Nine months out of the year I’m nobody and for three months I get to play the rock star.”
Pitrelli has been in and out of hard rock bands for nearly ten years. His versatile experience ranges from Lita Ford and Alice Cooper to Asia and Savatage. Most know that TSO and Savatage are universally linked a kinship relation sown together by producer Paul O’Neil. A third ingredient, keyboard wizard Bob Kinkel, handles all the programming and arranging. “All three of us plus Johnny (Middleton-bass), Jeff (Plate-drums) and Chris (Caffery-guitars) have duel careers with TSO and Savatage,” says Pitrelli. “Once Paul O’Neil got involved with Savatage, which was basically a power metal trio years ago, it took on a whole new character, reinventing itself on every record. It’s quite possibly Paul’s involvement that moved Savatage into TSO.”
For the faint-hearted, TSO’s Handel-like Christmas attraction is secure in the comfort of your own home, but live, TSO is a pulsating beast with a huge bite. From the opening narration of the enchanting Christmas story a mesmerizing hush fills the hall. Blues lights cascade over bellowed smoke, then to the surprise of the over forty crowd (of which there are many) a very aggressive heavy metal outfit, in full tuxedo, brings to life a Christmas Eve as seen through the eyes of a lost soul finding her way back home. The performance reaches an almost spiritual level.
“There are three kinds of art,” says O’Neil. “Good, Bad and Great. Bad art elicits no response in the person encountering it. Good art will make you feel an emotion that you’ve felt before or triggers a memory. Great art will make you feel something you’ve never felt before. That’s what we’re trying to do with our music, cut as deep, emotionally, as we can so the audience feels something they’ve never felt before and hopefully takes that home with them.”
David Krebs, the man who basically invented BIG rock and roll is the managing force behind the group. During the holiday season an hour-long TSO production was broadcast several times on different networks. This summer TSO is taking on a far riskier medium by bringing forth Beethoven’s Last Night. Done in the usual TSO grander it will be fully orchestrated with guest performance and an original story line. The primes is based on the night Beethoven dies and the battle waged over his soul.