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Trans-Siberian Orchestra performing live in November 2006
|Also known as||TSO|
|Labels||Lava, Atlantic, Rhino|
|Associated acts||Savatage, Jon Oliva's Pain, Megadeth|
Trans-Siberian Orchestra performing live in November 2006
|Also known as||TSO|
|Labels||Lava, Atlantic, Rhino|
|Associated acts||Savatage, Jon Oliva's Pain, Megadeth|
Trans-Siberian Orchestra (TSO) is an American progressive rock band founded in 1993 by producer, composer, and lyricist Paul O'Neill, who brought together Jon Oliva and Al Pitrelli (both members of Savatage) and keyboardist and co-producer Robert Kinkel to form the core of the creative team. The band gained in popularity when they began touring in 1999 after completing their third rock opera, "Beethoven's Last Night." In 2007, the Washington Post referred to them as "an arena-rock juggernaut" and described their music as "Pink Floyd meets Yes and The Who at Radio City Music Hall." TSO has sold more than 10 million concert tickets and over 10 million albums. The band has released a series of rock operas: Christmas Eve and Other Stories, The Christmas Attic, Beethoven's Last Night, The Lost Christmas Eve (the final installment of their Christmas trilogy), and their two-disc Night Castle. Trans-Siberian Orchestra is also known for their extensive charity work and elaborate concerts, which include a string section, a light show, lasers,"enough pyro to be seen from the international space station", moving trusses, video screens, and effects synchronized to music.
Both Billboard Magazine and Pollstar have ranked them as one of the top ten ticket-selling bands in the first decade of the new millennium These numbers are even more impressive when you factor in that TSO is the first major rock band to go straight to theaters and arenas, never playing a club, never having an opening act and never being an opening act. In the fall of 2013 it was announced that they would kick off their 2014 European tour with a performance on New Year's Eve in front of over 1,000,000 fans at Berlin's Brandenburg Gate. The show would also be broadcast live to millions more on German television.
Paul O'Neill has managed and produced rock bands including Aerosmith, Humble Pie, AC/DC, Joan Jett, and Scorpions, later producing and co-writing albums by the progressive metal band Savatage, where he began working with Jon Oliva (who had left Savatage to spend time with his family and take care of personal matters), Al Pitrelli and Robert Kinkel. O'Neill took his first steps into rock music in the 1970s when he started the progressive rock band Slowburn, for whom he was the lyricist and co-composer. What was intended to be the band's debut album was recorded at Jimi Hendrix's Electric Lady Studios and engineered by Dave Wittman. Although Dave Wittman's engineering wasn't capturing the exact sound O'Neill was hearing in his head, O'Neill was having trouble with it because many of his melodies were between two to three octaves. Rather than releasing an album that he was not happy with, he shelved the project, but continued working in the industry at Contemporary Communications Corporation (also known as Leber & Krebs,) the biggest arena rock management company at the time.
Over the years, O'Neill continued to work as a writer, producer, manager, and concert promoter. In 1993, he accepted Atlantic Records' offer to start his own band. He built the band on a foundation created by the marriage of classical and rock music and the artists he idolized (Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Queen, Yes, The Who, and Pink Floyd, and hard rock bands such as Aerosmith and Led Zeppelin and the multiple lead vocalists of the R&B groups the Temptations and the Four Tops). He brought in Oliva, Kinkel, and Al Pitrelli to help start the project. O'Neil has stated, "My original concept was six rock operas, a trilogy about Christmas and maybe one or two regular albums."
The band's name has multiple connections to the group — the most important being that the band's first album slated for release in 1994 was a rock opera about the Bolshevik Revolution entitled "Romanov: When Kings Must Whisper." The Trans-Siberian Railway was built during the Romanov imperial rule and was used by many of the characters in the rock opera, from Leon Trotsky to Lavrentiy Beria. However, the album was put on hold. Eventually, the group turned in the first installment of the Christmas Trilogy as their debut album; as a result, their label kept pressuring O'Neill for the name of the band so they could go to print. In an interview he said,
In the 1980s I was fortunate enough to have visited Russia. If anyone has ever seen Siberia, it is incredibly beautiful but incredibly harsh and unforgiving as well. The one thing that everyone who lives there has in common that runs across it in relative safety is the Trans-Siberian Railway. Life, too, can be incredibly beautiful but also incredibly harsh and unforgiving, and the one thing that we all have in common that runs across it in relative safety is music. It was a little bit overly philosophical, but it sounded different, and I like the initials, TSO.
Paul O'Neill and Jon Oliva were preparing for the launching of Trans-Siberian Orchestra when their plans were brought to a halt with the death of Jon's younger brother and talented Savatage guitarist, Criss Oliva, killed by a drunk driver. Realizing that without a new Savatage album delivered quickly, Warner Brothers would likely drop the group and their catalog, they quickly delivered two new albums for Savatage. Not until they were sure that the Savatage situation was stabilized were they able to resume work on TSO. With Savatage stabilized Paul O'Neill decided it was time to launch Trans-Siberian Orchestra; however, the William Morris Agency had heard the rough demos and convinced Paul that it was too good to be a rock album. Owen Laster, Paul O'Neill's agent, not only got him thirty million for production cost but also helped him to obtain total creative control over everything produced by him.
Their debut album, the first installment of the intended Christmas Trilogy, was a rock opera called Christmas Eve and Other Stories, and was released in 1996. It remains among their best-selling albums. It contains the song "Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24" which also appeared on Savatage's rock opera, Dead Winter Dead, a story about the Bosnian War. Their 1998 release The Christmas Attic, the sequel to Christmas Eve and Other Stories followed a similar format. This album produced the hit "Christmas Canon," a take on Johann Pachelbel's Canon in D major with lyrics and new melodies added.
"Beethoven's Last Night," was completed prior to "Christmas Attic" but not turned in to Atlantic Records until 1999 for release in 2000. The story begins when Mephistopheles appears before Beethoven, whom Paul O'Neill refers to as "the world's first Heavy Metal Rock Star", to collect the great composer's soul. Of course Beethoven is horrified at the thought of eternal damnation, but the devil has an offer and the bargaining begins. There are numerous plot twist including the fate of his music and the ending is based on a true but little known fact about Beethoven. Also in 1998, at the request of Scott Shannon of WPLJ they performed live for the first time in a charity concert for Blythsdale Children's Hospital. In 1999, at the urging of Bill Louis, a DJ for WNCX in Cleveland, they did their first tour, during which they debuted sections of Beethoven's Last Night. They performed the album in its entirety for the first time during the spring tour of 2010. In October 2011, Beethoven's Last Night was released in Europe to coincide with their European tour with new cover art by Greg Hildebrandt and the missing pages of poetry from the original release.
To coincide with the 2012 spring tour, "Beethoven's Last Night: The Complete Narrated Version," was released by Atlantic/Rhino/Warner Brothers Record. This two-disc deluxe edition includes all of the music from the original release and, for the first time, the narration featured during live performances of the album. It comes packaged with a booklet filled with Greg Hildebrandt's illustrations of the story, plus the full lyrics and narration. The narration is performed by Bryan Hicks, who has been handling the live narration on the tours for this album. Creator Paul O'Neill explains, "This is how I have always envisioned the story being experienced. Where the listener can relax, close their eyes and within minutes be wandering the streets of 1800's Vienna with Beethoven on the last great adventure of his life."
When ever the band was off the road they returned to the studio and eventually completed The Lost Christmas Eve, the final installment of Christmas Trilogy, in 2004. The story is about a business man whose wife died during childbirth. When he is told that his new born son was cut off from oxygen for so long that he has suffered serious irreversible brain damage he abandons him to the state. The next year they combined all three Christmas albums and released them in a box set titled The Christmas Trilogy, which also contained a DVD of their 1999 TV special The Ghosts of Christmas Eve (Each of the albums still continue to be available individually.)
"Wizards in Winter" exhibits the rock orchestra style of Trans-Siberian Orchestra.
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After another few years of touring, Night Castle, Trans-Siberian Orchestra's fifth album, was released on October 27, 2009 well received by fans and critics alike. It debuted at #5 on the Billboard Album Charts. It was certified gold in eight weeks and is now platinum. "Their most ambitious and adventurous work to date. It runs the gamut from hard rock to classical taking the listener on a journey through history detailing the triumphs and follies of man but is ultimately a story of transformation and love." Initially intended to be their first regular, non rock opera, consisting of ten stand alone songs album, O'Neill credits Jon Oliva persistence that it was too early for such a move and that the fifth album had to be a rock opera. Insisting that "TSO was not like any other band and that the fans expected a story. It was a little bit of a role reversal because when we were working in Savatage, I was always wanting to do a concept record." and The two-disc set includes a version of "O Fortuna" from Carmina Burana by Carl Orff, which was previewed live by the band during their 2004–2008 tours. An MP3 version of the album released through Amazon.com contains an additional track entitled "The Flight of Cassandra."
The first half is a rock opera about a seven-year-old child on a beach who meets a stranger from New York City who tells her a story that takes her all around the world and through time where she encounters various characters, many of which are based on historical individuals such as Desiderius Erasmus. The second half pays homage to Trans-Siberian Orchestra's influences. It also contains new versions of several Savatage songs as well as "Nut Rocker," originally by B. Bumble and the Stingers and previously made famous by Emerson, Lake & Palmer, featuring Greg Lake on bass guitar.
In February 2011, Night Castle was released in Europe with two live bonus tracks ("Requiem" and "Toccata-Carpimus Noctem") added. Both live tracks were recorded on the 2010 spring tour at the Verizon Theatre at Grand Prairie, formerly Nokia Theater, in Grand Prairie, Texas. Metal Kaoz, reviewed it as a two hour plus double rock opera CD with, "no filler" that flows smoothly. "The classical layers meet the beauty of Metal music and form the fine blend... a wide range of emotions and musical colors...tracks that will blow your mind. Hit play and wander freely in TSO's, Night Castle."
On October 30, 2012 Trans-Siberian Orchestra released a new five-song EP entitled "Dreams of Fireflies (On A Christmas Night)" on Lava Republic Universal Records. It debuted in Billboard Magazine's Top 200 Albums chart at number #9, and #1 in the rock charts. It was the band's first EP and with a list price of five dollars or under was Trans- Siberian Orchestra's way of saying thank you to their fans. Rather than containing the usual TSO story, it was more like a Harry Chapin album where a short story is contained within the song. For example, "Someday," is about how people have a tendency to put off saying thank you to individuals that they owe a great debt to and with the best of intention tell themselves that they will do it someday. Also each song is accompanied by a short poem.
Due for release in Europe on October 11, 2013, this fifteen-track collection is Trans-Siberian Orchestra's first Greatest Hits collection and includes songs from all six prior releases. Cover art once again provided by Greg Hildebrandt.
On November 27, 2010, as a special thank you to the fans, Trans-Siberian Orchestra teamed up with Amazon.com to give away a free MP3 download of "Dream Child 2010". This is a re-recording of "Dream Child" from the 1998 album "The Christmas Attic", this time with Tim Hockenberry on lead vocals.
During 2010, after 11 years narrating the concert, original and long-time TSO narrator Tony Gaynor was asked by TSO to visit a speech coach in New York City for elocution lessons. Though he did not understand why these were necessary, Gaynor followed through, but was fired regardless before the 2010 tour began. He eventually reunited with some of his friends from TSO in forming the band The Kings of Christmas.
During 2011, long-time TSO vocalist Tommy Farese claimed he was fired by the act for writing songs for a musical group that consisted of other former TSO performers (Tony Gaynor, Guy LeMonnier, and Maxx Mann). Farese then joined up with these performers in forming the band The Kings of Christmas.
On November 11, 2011 they released a new Choral piece entitled, "Who I Am". This was originally released as a digital download to fans who purchased tickets through the band's ticket pre-sale but is now available through other music sites as well. The song was preformed live as the opening number for the 2011 winter tour in acknowledgement of the rough times many people in the world were going through but bringing a message of hope by pointing out that together we can solve these problems as earlier generations have done in the past. It was accompanied by sound and video clips of individuals who helped humanity progress forward or over come seemingly impossible situations. The first quote and image was Reverend M.L. King's voice echoing " I Have a dream...that all men will be judged by the content of their character," followed by President Kennedy's inaugural challenge, "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country. It included pictures of Jonas Salk, the scientist who cured polio, Sister Mother Theresa who spent her life caring for the unwanted and ended with Neil Armstrong taking the first step on the moon and the NASA's Gene Kranz para phrased quote in regard to saving the astronauts aboard the damage space capsule Apollo 13, that, "Failure is not an option."
The 2012 spring tour featured the third and final year of, "Beethoven's Last Night."
On October 30, 2012 Trans-Siberian Orchestra released a new five-song EP entitled "Dreams of Fireflies (On A Christmas Night)" on Lava Republic Universal Records. It debuted in Billboard Magazine's Top 200 Albums chart at number #9, and #1 in the rock charts.
In 2013 the band announced the late November release of the novella," Merry Christmas Rabbi." Referred to as the final missing piece to the Christmas Trilogy, it is the journal discovered by the girl in the "Christmas Attic" rock opera that leads into the song, "Dream Child." Press releases describe it as "the story of a fateful Christmas Eve and how one of the craziest gambles in human history leads to a second chance for a troubled youth who finds himself past the point of no return."
Paul O'Neill constantly states that the fans own the band: "TSO's goal is to make the best albums and concerts we possibly can, sparing no amount of time or expense and then charge the lowest possible price. No musician or singer is on the TSO flight deck for the money. We do it because we love the energy from the crowd especially the kids. Also in Trans Siberian Orchestra the crew are as much a member of the band as anyone on the flight deck. They actually have the hardest jobs. They are the first ones in and the last ones out. Watching them at work is like watching a well choreographed ballet or military operation. TSO could not be TSO without them and we know it." Al Pitrelli summed it up more humorously, "No one in TSO is paid to be on the stage, that we do for free. The money is to stay out of trouble on our off time."
Over the years Paul consistently thanks the audience, referring to them as the second half of Trans Siberian Orchestra and that without them TSO would just be notes and words echoing in an empty arena. "The fans enthusiasm and energy power the stage show as much, if not more, than any local electric company."
As of March 1, 2013 Trans-Siberian Orchestra had a staggering 25,870 fan reviews on Ticketmaster fan reviews site alone, averaging between 4.5 and 5 on a scale of 1 to 5. Ticketmaster is the worlds biggest ticket seller. On that date under, Music Fan Reviews - Ticketmaster - Rock/Pop, Most Reviews, Trans-Siberian Orchestra held the number one spot by over ten thousand reviews.
Trans Siberian Orchestra Music has constantly been used every year synced to major outdoor fire work displays. From Malta's, Santa Manira Festival, to countless New Year's Eves from Dallas to Almaty, Kazakhstan to numerous other outdoor celebrations across the globe.
In 2005 Carson Williams started a synchronized lighting race when he used 88 Light-O-Rama channels, over ten thousand lights and a small radio transmitter to illuminate his home to, "Wizards in Winter." A video of the house quickly went viral on the internet and eventually was picked up by Miller-Light as the theme for their T.V. adds over the next two years. Other homes soon followed eventually crossing to single homes with over a million lights. Soon after entire cities like Denver and Chicago were lighting their downtown districts in a similar manner, as well as many major theme parks such as Disney World and Universal Studios.
TSO's music has been used as backing tracks to numerous NFL, WWF, NHL pre-game shows and highlight reels. Their songs are also a favorite with world class skaters Olympic Skaters such as Jozef Sabovcick and the team of Marina Anissina & Gwendal Peizerat  It as also been used by competitive gymnastics and dancers. Arguably its most creative use to date was by a Chinese Dance Troupe at Hong Kong Disneyland incorporating a magical illusionist move to "The Lion's Roar" from the "Night Castle Album."
Based on the 1917 Russian Revolution with the music written primarily by Paul O'Neill, Jon Oliva and Bob Kinkel, this album began its life in 1993 with the intention of it being TSO's debut album. It is being worked on currently with no official release date scheduled, though Oliva has stated that it will be released sometime in 2014. Though it was originally intended as the first TSO release, it was sold to Pace Theatrical Group for development as a Broadway musical. Pace paid for the rights to the story for six years before rights reverted to O'Neill and Oliva. According to Oliva, "It’s a very dark, dark album, but there’s some good music and a good story on it."
"Winter Palace", a song included on their 2012 Dreams of Fireflies (On a Christmas Night) EP, is the first song released from this forthcoming project. "Time You Should be Sleeping", also from this EP, is a song that was part of the original Romanov demos in 1993, though it is not yet known if this new recording of it will be on the final released recording.
A project currently in development, though no release date has been set. According to Oliva, "It’s the Savatage album Streets: A Rock Opera story with some songs from Gutter Ballet, a couple songs taken out from "Streets" replaced with ones from "Gutter", and a couple from Handful of Rain. And the stories are altered."
Beginning with the 2010 Fall/Winter tour, TSO has been featuring songs from this project in each of their tours. A medley included "Sleep", originally a song from Savatage from their 1993 Edge of Thorns release, and a new song entitled "Child Unseen". Also often included in the medley is a portion of The Beatles' "Help". The 2011 and 2012 Fall/Winter Tours featured Kayla Reeves and Dari Mahnic performing another new song from this forthcoming "Gutter Ballet" project entitled "Someday". The studio version of this "Someday" was released on the 2012 Dreams of Fireflies (On a Christmas Night) EP with Tim Hockenberry on vocals. During the 2012 Spring tour, vocalist Rob Evan performed "A Little Too Far" from the Streets: A Rock Opera album during radio appearances.
A new rock theater production recently written by Paul O'Neill, but not yet recorded.
A musical written by Paul O'Neill and Bob Kinkel shortly after the original Romanov writing period.
The Trans-Siberian Orchestra is known for their incorporation of classical, orchestral, symphonic, and progressive elements into rock and heavy metal music. They are listed under many genres, but mostly symphonic rock, progressive rock, neo-classical metal, and classical music. The band is musically driven as opposed to celebrity driven. In the studio the albums are never started before the story and the majority of the songs are finished. Jeff Scott Soto the lead singer who replaced Steve Perry in Journey before joining TSO (singing the part of Lt. Cozier on the, "Night Castle" album and Mephistopheles on the Beethoven's Last Night Tours) explain that TSO records and tours like no other band. "They wait until you are in the studio and then explain the story and the motivation of your character. This way they capture the excitement and raw emotion of the character bringing it to life." On the road they protect the singers' voices by never allowing any singer to perform more than five lead vocals per concert, thus avoiding damaging their vocal cords. For any experienced rock singer it is "a Godsend in that it's challenging and different from what I ordinarily do but it is a cake walk compared to having the pressure of singing full out for two hours healthy or sick."
In TSO singing is not acceptable, story telling is acceptable, but the ultimate goal is for the vocalist to become the individual they are portraying. "On Night Castle," Jeff Scott Soto is not singing about Lt. Cozier, he is Lt. Cozier. Rob Evans is not singing about Tran-Do he is Tran-Do. Al Pitrelli's guitar solos make you see those tracer round firing over your head.
Both in the recording studio and live, Trans-Siberian Orchestra uses a full orchestra, choirs, and a constantly growing and changing group of singers and musicians.
Three of their albums – Christmas Eve and Other Stories (1996), The Christmas Attic (1998), The Lost Christmas Eve (2004) – are based around Christmas themes. These rock operas, collectively known as the "Christmas trilogy," remain perennial best sellers.
Since Trans-Siberian Orchestra began touring, the band has donated over $10 million to a combination of local and national charities. At every tour stop, the group donates one dollar or more from each ticket sold to a local charity in the city where they are performing. A single day (two shows) in New Jersey's I-zod arena yielded $40,000 to local charities  The band helps any charity or group they think is in need but especially ones that protect and help children. In 2010 Paul O'Neill voiced the band's philosophy on the TSO's web site and also in the 2010 Winter Tour Book, "We are all in this together. We must look out for the well being of each other, most of all the young. For the young are the architects of the future and we are the architects of the young. We can not tell those yet to be born that we did our best." Paul, a well known history buff, then adds a Winston Churchill quote, "Our best is not good enough if it does not succeed."
Despite being in the middle of their American tour, on December, 04, 2013, Paul O'Neill & Meun Kim along with a string section and child choir appeared on German Television's annual Christmas Gala to help raise money for less fortunate children in Africa.
What is the purpose of art?
"The purpose of art is to create an emotional response from the person exposed to that art. There are basically three types of art; bad art, good art and great art. Bad art will elicit no emotional response in the individual that is exposed to it, i.e. a song on the radio that is just back ground noise, a picture on a wall that gives you the same emotional response as blank wall paper, a movie that chews up time. Good art, which is hard to do, will make you feel an emotion that you have felt before; you see a picture of a forest and you remember the last time you were fishing with your dad, you hear a song about being in love and you remember the last time you were in love. Great art will make you feel an emotion that you never felt before; seeing the pieta by Michelangelo can cause someone to feel the pain of losing a child even if they've never had one, reading "All Quiet On The Western Front" can cause you to feel the claustrophobic fear of a mustard gas attack even if you've never been in battle. When you are trying to for these emotions the easiest one to trigger is anger but any one, even a child, can do it. Go into the street and throw a rock at some one and they are angry. The emotions of empathy, love, compassion and empathy are much harder to evoke but since they operate on a much greater level they bring a much greater reward.
Do you worry about critics?
"Like all artists, you hope that people will like your creations. But the ultimate critic, the only one you can't fool, the one we really worry about, is, time. Either people are going to be listening to your music, be reading your books in hundreds years or they're not. "After all is said and done, 'Time', is the only critic that matters."
Have you ever thought of retiring?
"What musically? Nah. Retiring means I'm going to move to the mountains and do what I really love full time? I do that now. You know as long as playing guitar keeps my heart beating, I'm okay."
"Nothing we have ever done has been about the money...Its about the love of playing, the people and the songs."
You were legendary for excesses, do you still indulge?
"No, if I did I'd drop dead tomorrow. I still have the occasional cigarette."
Trans-Siberian Orchestra first toured in 1999, performing a handful of concerts in Upper Darby, New York City, Cleveland, Chicago, and Detroit. The next year, two touring groups were formed, allowing the band to cover more ground in the short time frame Paul O'Neill allows the Holiday Rock Operas to be performed (November & December). Trans-Siberian Orchestra has maintained the dual band format for touring during those months ever since, but performs as a single band during the rest of the year.
The two touring groups are informally known as TSO East and TSO West, although these descriptions are not entirely literal. For example, TSO West & TSO East have both performed in Atlanta, Chicago, Saint Louis, Indianapolis and every major city in Florida.
Shows on the band's fall/winter tour are divided into two acts. For their first thirteen tours, the first act was a narrated performance of most of the songs from Christmas Eve and Other Stories. Beginning with the 2012 tour, the first act is a narrated performance of most of the songs from The Lost Christmas Eve. In the second act, the band performs a mix of songs from their other albums. Their Spring tours to promote Beethoven's Last Night in 2010 - 2012 used a similar format, with the first act being a narrated performance of most of the songs from Beethoven's Last Night followed by several songs from Night Castle. On the 2012 spring tour, the band also included two Savatage songs, both from the album Handful of Rain - the title track and "Chance", which concluded the shows.
In March 2011 the band had its first tour in Europe. It included 11 shows in Switzerland, Austria, Germany (six venues), the Netherlands, Belgium and England with a similar setlist like the US Spring tours. All instrumental members of the recent Savatage line-up except Jon Oliva were featured in the shows, which also led to the opportunity to play Chance as a final song.
A second European tour took place in January 2014 with 15 shows in England, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany (seven venues), Switzerland, Czech Republic and Austria, touring in support of their Greatest Hits release, Tales of Winter. It included again all the four Savatage musicians, and many of the band songs like This Is The Time, Gutter Ballet and All That I Bleed.
In 2009, Billboard ranked TSO as one of the Top 25 Touring Artists of the past decade. Live shows are known for their extensive use of pyrotechnics, lasers, and lights synchronized with the performance. They are very well known for these concerts, which are acclaimed by critics and fans alike.
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