STORY WRITTEN BY BRIAN BINGAMAN
@brianbingaman on Twitter
Bringing rock opera and old-school heavy metal pyrotechnics to holiday music ever since “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24” was unleashed in 1996, The Trans-Siberian Orchestra presents “The Ghosts of Christmas Eve: The Best of TSO and More.”
“At the core, it’s a prog rock band, but it fuses blues music, gospel, classical, metal …,” said TSO keyboardist and music director Derek Wieland in a phone interview. “It’s a very, very family-friendly show, and it’s a show that appeals to all ages.” The presenting tour sponsor of “The Ghosts of Christmas Eve: The Best of TSO and More” is Hallmark Channel.
The story is about a runaway who breaks into an abandoned vaudeville theater, seeking shelter from the cold on Christmas Eve. Once inside, the teen is discovered by the theater’s caretaker who uses the ghosts and spirits from the building’s past to turn her life around.
Each concert ticket purchased online will include a digital audio copy of “The Ghosts of Christmas Eve,” TSO’s DVD release from 2001. This is the first time these songs have been released in an audio package, and the album features a bonus track titled “Music Box Blues (Daryl Pediford Tribute New York 2004).”
According to Wieland, between the music, visual effects and stage elements, the production is so big that it takes 19 trucks, 30 tour buses and a team of 300 people to pull off a winter tour. “It’s a colossal undertaking,” he commented.
“This is my 11th year touring. Every tour has been different. It’s interesting how spontaneous it is the way the show develops. It’s a little bit of a new phase for the TSO. We’re throwing in some new songs and ideas. In future years, we may go back to one of the old stories,” Wieland said, referring to the narratives of albums like the multi-platinum “Christmas Eve and Other Stories,” 1998’s “The Christmas Attic” and “The Lost Christmas Eve” — collectively known as TSO’s Christmas trilogy.
Trans-Siberian Orchestra is the brain child of Paul O’Neill, who was a touring guitarist for “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Hair,” then went to work for a Manhattan management company whose clients included Ted Nugent, AC/DC, Def Leppard, The Scorpions, The New York Dolls and others. Before collaborating with the ‘80s metal band Savatage, he produced Aerosmith’s “Classics Live” and “Classics Live II” albums.
On the TSO website, O’Neill said: “I wanted to take the very best of all the forms of music I grew up on and merge them into a new style. Basically I was building on the work of everybody I worshipped: the rock opera parts from bands like The Who; the marriage of classical and rock from bands like Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Queen; the over-the-top light show from bands like Pink Floyd … I always wanted to do a full rock opera with a full progressive band and at least 18 lead singers.”
A touring version of TSO first hit the road in 1999.
“He’s had a constant vision. Paul has about 10 rock operas he’s written. Three of these make up the Christmas thematic stories, and those are very successful,” said Wieland.
Even though you only seem to hear about them during the holidays, TSO’s non-Christmas-but-still-grandiose releases are last year’s “Letters from the Labyrinth,” “Night Castle” from 2009 and “Beethoven’s Last Night.”