The Trans-Siberian Orchestra will return to State College to spread some Christmas cheer with a performance at the Bryce Jordan Center on Dec. 4.
Trans-Siberian Orchestra began touring in 1999 and gained in popularity after releasing its second album, “The Christmas Attic,” in 1998. The band recorded a trilogy of Christmas albums, starting with its debut in 1996, called “Christmas Eve and Other Stories,” “The Christmas Attic” and the final installment, “The Lost Christmas Eve,” in 2004. Though the album features one of the band’s most popular songs, “Christmas Canon,” “The Christmas Attic” is the only album in the trilogy never to be performed live. For its 2014 tour, Trans-Siberian Orchestra finally will make the “Christmas Trilogy” complete.
Founded in 1996, Trans-Siberian Orchestra is the brainchild of producer, composer and lyricist Paul O’Neill, who brought together singer and musician Jon Oliva and guitarist Al Pitrelli, of the hard rock group Savatage, and keyboardist and co-producer Robert Kinkel to form the core of the band. O’Neill previously managed and produced several rock artists including Aerosmith, AC/DC, the Scorpions and Joan Jett.
“The chemistry that makes us very unique is that we’re really a combination of musicians from very different walks of life,” said musical director Derek Wieland. “I started out at Juilliard in a very classical background. Pitrelli has a lot of blues in his background, and a lot of metal. And O’Neill is the architect and writes the stories we’re kind of building when we get together in production rehearsal.”
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A combination of creative composers, performers, writers and incredible production that is integral to the story makes Trans-Siberian Orchestra a strong team of dedicated professionals. TSO’s unique style can be described as progressive rock, metal and rock opera, with comparisons to bands such as Emerson, Lake and Palmer; Pink Floyd; Yes; and Queen. It’s that kind of classical technique used with a rock edge and an infusion of blues, but there is a story to be told as well.
“That is a very accurate description because you have the experience of the huge arena type visuals, you have the progressive elements in there and you have rock opera,” Wieland said. “It’s the best of the best in every way, because the original compositions we draw from other composers, the level of performers we have and the level of visual designers that we have is really incredible. It’s a team that is very close and has worked together for many years. We kind of intuitively sense the direction of it coming together when we’re doing it.”
Known for elaborate concerts, which include a string section, a light show, lasers, pyrotechnics, video screens and effects synchronized to music, TSO puts on electrifying shows year after year, with more than 120 shows in 71 cities across North America on this tour.
“The visuals that we have with the lasers, the lights, the pyrotechnics and the stage are big surprises — lots of surprises happening there,” Wieland said. “All of these elements come together to make the Trans-Siberian Orchestra what it is and what makes it impossible to copy. It’s something that is hard to describe.”
Creativity is of the utmost importance to any artist, and Wieland said he believes it can be found in many different ways.
“It’s found in working with great people and learning from other people,” he said. “It’s found when you get into a special zone, which you hope to do in a performance; it’s found when you’re arranging or writing something. And that’s what an artist is — forever seeking and never satisfied. That’s the nature of what pushes us forward. It’s a very human quality.”
This year TSO is doing the second part of the “Christmas Trilogy,” which includes many rock operas; some Christmas-related and some not. The first part of the show is interspersed with narrations that flow between songs, with the story unfolding from there. The narrative of “The Christmas Attic” begins on Christmas Eve, when a young girl’s curiosity leads her to a night of mischief, magic and adventure.
“It really is a progressive rock-rock opera,” Wieland said. “The fact that there are all these interesting elements that connect with different people of different ages and backgrounds, yet they work together to make this unified — that’s really the magic.”
The second half of the show features TSO iconic classics and fan favorites, such as “Wizards in Winter,” “Requiem (the Fifth)” and “Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24).”
“This is the first time we’re doing this part of the trilogy,” he said. “It’s very unique the way the show has come together this year. It’s very electric, it’s very energetic, and it’s got a synergy that you can feel when you’re there. It’s quite interesting to see how during our massive two-week production rehearsal process that we create and build this thing around Paul’s story, and then it happens.”
The enormous size of the band and the capabilities it has allows TSO to play shows simultaneously in two cities at once.
“I’ve been touring for nine years — playing keyboards and music directing, but now doing the more East route,” Wieland said. “We’re one band, but we play more than 120 shows, and radio and TV shows, but we alternate in a very, very short period of time. We go six and a half or seven weeks, so we need to split in two to do it.”
One of the biggest strengths for the band and particularly for the audience is the way in which some of the Christmas-themed music and the classical-themed music is arranged, which makes it very recognizable.
“I think it’s always going to touch that nerve — that really primal nerve that we all have with classic music that we love that’s really resonating with us culturally,” he said. “That’s a very big part of it.”
It’s thought that TSO’s path to success has been unusual, going straight to performing in theaters and arenas and having not played in a club or having or being an opening act. But they did not start out as small as one would think.
“We grew very, very quickly,” Wieland said. “It just so happened that the Christmas-themed rock operas became a seasonal favorite of many fans. And it’s not a plan. Those records and those stories were an inspiration, and we’re fortunate to turn that into a big success in that way as well.”