Music News & Reviews

Trans-Siberian Orchestra not resting on its lasers

The Trans-Siberian Orchestra, shown in an earlier concert, performed Thursday at Rupp Arena. More than 8,000 people reveled in the special effects.
The Trans-Siberian Orchestra, shown in an earlier concert, performed Thursday at Rupp Arena. More than 8,000 people reveled in the special effects.

There is a curious addition to the titles Paul O'Neill can make claim to.

Alongside duties as composer, instrumentalist, producer, engineer and all around rock music entrepreneur — all of which stem from his role as founder of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra — O'Neill can now rightly call himself an outlaw. Such a distinction comes as a result of a youthful transgression that would later trigger the inspiration for The Christmas Attic, the double-platinum 1998 album TSO will bring to gargantuan life on Thursday at Rupp Arena.

"Well, the statute of limitations ran out on this a long time ago, so it's okay to talk about," O'Neill says. "I think the technical term for it is breaking and entering."

As a kid growing up in New York City, O'Neill and several youthful pals were drawn to rows of abandoned buildings. Vacated and boarded, he would venture inside and find little more than a whole lot of empty — that is, until he reached the attic.

"These attics had stuff left from decades, sometimes centuries ago," O'Neill says. "The one I will never forget was like a wonderland for kids. The first thing I saw was a Gramophone. There was all this stuff from the past including this old sea chest. When we opened it, it was filled with letters from the 1850s and 1860s. That day we just sat and read those letters 'til twilight. It was like a time machine. That's where we got the whole idea for The Christmas Attic."

This month marks the first full seasonal run for The Christmas Attic as a concert piece. But that doesn't mean TSO will retreat from its usual performance assault. In addition to the rock opera trapping of strings and guitar will be TSO's equally cherished arsenal of pyrotechnics, lighting effects and general all-out flash.

The year began with the opportunity to take such grandiosity to a new locale — specifically, a New Year's Eve performance at Brandenburg Gate. But there was a hitch: getting TSO and all of its titanic gear to Berlin after a pair of stateside concerts the night before.

"We had that puddle between us and Germany to deal with called the Atlantic," O'Neill says. "Plus we were flying against the clock. There have been times when I've played in Europe and then in America the next day. But there, every time you crossed a time zone, you would get an hour. It's the exact opposite when you're going the other way. But this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We had the jets waiting on the tarmac because we only had about two hours of error room. But there was no turbulence, everything worked out perfect and we finished soundcheck with 15 minutes to spare."

The result was a performance where TSO rang in 2014 before a live audience of two million and an estimated television viewership of eight million.

Next up for O'Neill is something perhaps smaller in scale but considerably larger in terms of ambition. With three new non-holiday recording projects in the works, he hopes to take TSO to Broadway and redefine the role of rock music in contemporary theatre.

"The idea of arena rock theatre is something we have developed quite nicely," O'Neill says. "But I've also wanted to take on Broadway.

"I love Broadway. But the problem is it is so stuck in the past. So I would like to take some of the special effects from the world of rock 'n' roll, the quality of musicianship from rock 'n' roll, but also the coherent storytelling aspect from Broadway and combine that so maybe in the next couple of years we will have our first Broadway production."

And the cost? If there is anything more overblown than ticket prices to an arena rock show, it's the ticket prices of most Broadway productions.

"We're working on that aspect right now because getting the show written and put out there is only half the battle. It still has to be affordable for everyone. But it can be done. We are a perfect example. TSO keeps its ticket prices between $25 and $70 and we have one of the most expensive productions in the world. We've done that for 16 years, so it can be done. There has to be a way to do that for Broadway, too."

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