Trans-Siberian Orchestra amps up holiday tour in honor of fallen founder
Producing stunning musical and visual presentations every holiday season has become the norm for the Trans-Siberian Orchestra and its extended family of crew members and creative minds, but this Christmastime, they’re giving just a bit more.
The progressive rock juggernaut, famous for their Yuletide rock operas and virtuoso arrangements of classic Christmas songs, will perform at 2:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sunday at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Wilkes-Barre Township with an updated version of their popular story, “The Ghosts of Christmas Eve.” The tour is additionally dubbed The Best of TSO and More.
TSO’s annual visit to the arena has drawn thick crowds, but this year, the critically-acclaimed, multi-platinum outfit, is nearing with added motivation.
Tragically, TSO lost two of its friends and colleagues this year. Bassist David “David Z” Zablidowsky died in the same Adrenaline Mob RV incident that claimed the life of local vocalist Janet Rains in July in Florida, and Zablidowsky’s death came just over three months after the group lost the creative mind behind TSO — founding composer, multi-instrumentalist and humanitarian Paul O’Neill.
“We’re doing doing this for Paul and Dave and in their honor,” keyboard player and musical director Derek Wieland said. “Especially this year. Everybody is stepping up their game on all levels from the band to the singers to the production people that creatively put together the show.”
Spectacles of light, pyrotechnic burst and moving set-pieces have grown to become hallmarks of TSO shows that are known for delivering master-level musical performances and detailed storytelling, complemented — in recent years — by a narrator.
O’Neill was open about his theatrical side — he often told members of the press he was working toward something more akin to a Broadway production than a rock concert.
“We’ve been working up music and putting in new music, and the presentation of the show is amped up in a couple ways,” Wieland said. “The production is extraordinary, and we’ve done a number of things to meet the bar we always have set, but we always want to get to a new level every tour.”
Prior to the tour, Wieland said, the entire orchestra gathers for rehearsal, working as one unit, until the chemistry among players is so honed, that the band can break into two groups to cover different regions of the country throughout a schedule that demands 120 shows in six weeks.
“We have this incredible ability to rehearse and refine it until we really get the show to the standard we feel is necessary and we’re in a synergy where the shows are mirroring each other,” Wieland said.
The fact that the musicians, production crew, creative cohort and management — a roughly 200-person team — can put on such a large-scale show with such professionalism and artistry on a yearly basis, is a testament to O’Neill, Wieland said.
“Paul knew who to leave doing what they are doing,” he said. “It’s a credit to not only his genius at having created this in the first place, but having created something that can go on and continue to grow. I don’t know if there’s another group where the founder produced and created something that is able to do that.”
Wieland said O’Neill, who had a reputation for being intellectual, philanthropic and compassionate, was able to conceive of something special because of his unique attitude and approach to the production.
“For me, I’m thinking about (O’Neill) every second,” Wieland said. “I can hear his voice, what he would have said and done. He was an especially generous, kind and warm-hearted person you could feel connected to right away, and I think he had that effect on thousands and thousands of people.
“What’s incredible about this project is how it brings people together and how it brings the best out of people. There’s something bigger about this group than any show or band.”
Wieland, a 12-year veteran of TSO, has seen it develop, evolve and touch the lives of many each holiday season.
“It’s not superficial. It’s a genuine, positive feeling, a message that comes from Paul’s lyrics and story and the meaning behind it,” Wieland said. “Music can be therapeutic and change the world in a good direction sometimes.
“Shows of this size are very produced, commercially prefabricated, but this show isn’t. Every single note is performed. There are no tracks, nothing artificially put up there. It has the organic feel of a rock band but the scope of a major production. That’s another piece of the magic that they can do that. I think the audience can feel that. It’s really human, emotional and artistic.”
Reach Matt Mattei at 570-991-6651 or on Twitter @TimesLeaderMatt
IF YOU GO
What: Trans-Siberian Orchestra: ‘The Ghosts of Christmas Eve,’ the Best of TSO and More
Where: Mohegan Sun Arena, 255 Highland Park Blvd., Wilkes-Barre Township
When: 2:30 and 7 p.m. Sunday
Additional information: Tickets start at $44.50 and are available at ticketmaster.com or by phone at 800-745-3000.