About Me

Interview with Trans-Siberian Orchestra

For two decades, the annual tour of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra (TSO) in the United States has been cherished in the Christmas season by millions of American families. However, like so many other events, the presentation of the 2020 show had to be canceled due to the pandemic. However, the project founded by producer Paul O'Neill and members of the legendary Savatage, decided to innovate and will present a very special event in live streaming. On December 18th, the band will broadcast live a show based on the album "Christmas Eve and Other Stories", which will be available for 48 hours. To learn more about this eclectic musical concept, Metal Imperium had an interesting conversation with Al Pitrelli, guitarist for Savatage and musical director for TSO.

M.I. - 2020’s rendition of the show got cancelled due to the ongoing pandemic. How did the idea of turning this into an online event come up?  How different has it been preparing this event in comparison to the previous years?

First, I wanted to say thank you for the interview. We knew there was a possibility that the tour was going to be cancelled because most of the tours were. We held out as long as we could and, in the time, when we were dealing with this, we also were thinking about things we could do if we didn’t tour. A lot of the preparation is exactly the same as far as putting the band together in the production but, of course, so many things are different. We needed to deal with the Covid rules and conditions to make sure we could do this safely. We also are only using one band instead of TSO East and West so it’s a combination of both.

M.I. - A production like this requires a lot of manpower and money. How would things happen if it weren’t for the virus? Do you feel the same excitement as if things were normal? Or does this add extra pressure?

Well, since we never have dealt with a pandemic before while touring and we’ve also never done a pay-per-view live stream before, this is all new. So, it’s kind of hard for me to see how it would be different without the virus because, like I said, the pay-per-view is something we’ve never done before. I think a lot of the pressures are exactly the same but many of them are completely different because we need to perform two people through cameras and we’ve done that before with a lot of TV appearances but this is a lot different considering it’s going to be broadcasted all over the world. Because we’ve done a lot of TV before, I don’t really feel that much pressure and I’m used to performing for the cameras, so I think that’ll be fine but the main difference, like I said, will be the fact this is going to be a worldwide audience.

M.I. - The event “Christmas Eve and Other Stories Live in Concert” is a reconceptualized show based on the album of the same name, which is your first album released in 1996. Why have you opted for it? 

Well, actually that record was released 25 years ago so this is the story we were going to be doing on the actual tour. We went back to the story last year in the live show and we were definitely doing it again this year, so it’s the perfect one for this moment, I believe, especially since it’s got a really strong message of hope and people all over the world are experiencing time away from people they love which there is a lot of that situation, in the story as well. I personally feel it’s the perfect story out of the three in the Christmas trilogy for this situation in 2020.

M.I. - The Christmas season is defined by tradition and the comfort of rituals and ceremony. But this year was characterized by declines and deprivation – physical distancing became a part of our daily lives, events were cancelled, tours got postponed. Do you believe this event will help you and your fans face a complicated holiday season in 2020?

Absolutely I do feel this will give us a chance to be together with our fans in this difficult year. We do miss them and we owe so much to them for their dedication and support over the past decades on the road. Even though we cannot see them in person, our music and Paul O'Neill’s legacy will have a chance to be a part of their holidays like every other year. Except this year, it will be happening safely in their living rooms instead of the arenas.

M.I. – The high-quality show won’t only appeal through the eclectic musical concept, but also through eye-catching sceneries that have been adapted to meet the high demands of the brand-new format. Which demands are these? What can fans expect?

Well, I don’t want to give away too much but I know our production team and creative minds have been trying to put together the best thing possible. Personally, I have a lot of surprises coming just like you do, I will see more of what is actually going to happen when we do it! 

M.I. - How was the date decided? Why the 18th December? Do you plan of doing more dates?

Well, this is the weekend before Christmas and people can watch it that entire weekend with the pay-per-view ticket. So, it is a way for us to actually do something that represents Christmas Eve the weekend before because the weekend after it would be after Christmas.

M.I. - For 21 years you’ve had the privilege of playing to millions of people. This year you will bring this timeless story to their living rooms. Despite the awkwardness, it will be an opportunity for fans to see their favourite holiday story up close and personal. Do you think it will be a great experience and people will be able to pay more attention to all details? It will certainly require a lot of cameras filming from different perspectives.

Well, they will be able to see exactly what the cameras eyes are seeing which is very detailed and very digital so, yeah, they will see a lot of things that you may not see from halfway across of the arena, they’ll be seeing a lot of things up close and personal… it’s like a front row seat for everybody! 

M.I. - The story of the album is set on Christmas Eve and tells the tale of a young angel sent to earth… is he going to save us from the virus? J Have you considered adding another character to represent this whole situation we’re going through?

Well, in our story the angel is saving one individual but if this one individual can represent everybody on the planet, I would love to be able to save them all this year. The hard part about this is Paul O'Neill created our stories and he created the magic and I’m sure he would have something that he would definitely develop from this difficult year. As far as TSO East 2018, we’re going to be working on releasing more of Paul’s older material and I have not spoken to anybody about a project or a story having anything to do with 2020.

M.I. - The European fans will be able to see a TSO show for the first time since the legendary performance with Savatage at Wacken 2015. Why haven’t you been to Europe more often? Logistical problem or lack of interest from promoters?

Most of our touring is done in the winter which lines up with the holidays in North America so it’s very hard for us to go and sell that to Europe in September and October before Christmas so it’s just not been there as far as the timing. I remember politics got the possibility of even trying to do with TSO East 2018 could go over to Europe and perform during November and December like we do because that’s that special magical time of the year that really relates with our story and TSOs message. 

M.I. - The orchestra’s back catalogue will be available digitally on all European streaming platforms for the first time ever. This includes not only the streaming event’s album but also The Christmas Attic, The Lost Christmas Eve, Night Castle and Beethoven’s Last Night. As an additional treat, the Savatage records Sirens and Dungeons Are Calling are set to be re-released early next year, as well as a special limited 10” vinyl single of the Savatage classic Hourglass. How high is the demand for this material? 

There is a big demand for all of this material it’s crazy but it’s old enough now to be considered classic. You know, once music gets over 20 years old that’s what starts happening to it. You move to the realm of classic rock and metal. The Savatage music is over 20 years old, some over 30. There are so many of these young fans that are under the age of 20 that never got to see Savatage or never heard our music too. So, there is a huge demand in many ways. I’m hoping it is something that’s going to be as special to all of the new fans as it was to the old ones. Also, that the older fans who never had a chance to pick up copies of these records can finally do it.

M.I. - TSO’s shows are very diversified when it comes to age, race and religion. Why do you think you appeal to all these people? 

Paul would always say our audiences’ 8 to 80 and it’s pretty much very true. Classical music has lived for hundreds of years and rock ‘n’ roll has lived for well over 50. Our audience spans generations just like rock ‘n’ roll and classical music does. The live shows have something in it for everybody. You watch little kids and teenagers and younger parents and older parents and grandparents that all see something that they love as a part of that show. A lot of them like different details but all of them, as a whole, love TSO.

M.I. - What’s so special about TSO?

TSO Is special because TSO is TSO. Just like Queen was Queen and the Beatles were the Beatles and Led Zeppelin was Led Zeppelin...TSO is TSO.  it’s a huge rock ‘n’ roll show with the rock theater element that has something in it for all ages, its great musicians and great singers and a great story and a great production and it’s very special and very different. I am just very proud to have been a part of it since day one. I’m really proud of to be a part of such a wonderful family of amazing musicians, incredible production workers and a very special group of management: TSO East 2018 giant family and that’s also what makes us special. Which leads me to this...I’m also so thankful to all of the TSO fans because we would not be who we are without them. And that is why we are doing this live stream on December 18. We hope everyone has a very happy and healthy holiday season and an even happier and healthier 2021! 

M.I. - The price of the ticket is 30 US$, tickets are available via the website www.trans-siberian.com, along with special gift packages that include shirts, ornaments and masks. It’s also possible to buy tickets and send them to family members or friends as a digital present. Aside from the 90-minute live firework, special behind-the-scenes-material and interviews will also be available. How are sales going? Being it an online event, is there a ticket limit?  

Well, because it’s a streaming event there’s no ticket limit. From what I’ve heard sales have been very good, I think a lot more than anybody expected. Which is wonderful because I know they not only will we get a chance to perform for all of our wonderful fans through this magical world of technology. But, at that moment, they will be safe in their homes during this difficult time. 

M.I. - It’s a TSO tradition that a portion of the proceeds from the livestream will be donated to charity. You usual donate the money to local charities. Have you already chosen the charity it will be attributed to this year?

Sometimes we choose the charities but a lot of times the radio stations will choose in the cities we travel to. Many of the charities have been a part of our donations for over 20 years and some we see for the very first time in a certain year. It’s just a wonderful feeling to be able to give back especially during the holiday season.

M.I. - The key for TSO’s success has been touring and TSO live is a full-bore entertainment experience. No doubt that’s one big reason why, in 2018, the tour grossed $53.7 million, ranking it #16 overall in North America. Have you ever imagined it to get this big? How happy are you that you didn’t give up the dream when you released your first album that didn’t sell that much?

Paul O'Neill always had visions and expectations for TSO. Paul O'Neill created the magic and he was the most dedicated person I’ve ever worked with in my life. I always felt there was nothing we couldn’t do because Paul just found somehow to make it happen. So even before we played our first show, Paul would tell me about what it would be like when TSO was headlining arenas. So, from day one, as soon as that record was released, there was no way we were going to be stopping! As long as we can change someone’s life with Paul’s music in our legacy, TSO will be there. 

M.I. - Is the band working on new material at the moment?

At the moment we are actually working on recording and releasing all of Paul O'Neill‘s unreleased magic. The first release will most likely be Romanov. From there we are working on new music but, right now, the priorities are getting the unreleased music that Paul had written out to all of the fans around the world.

M.I. - I can’t wait for the 18th December to experience the greatness of TSO live! Hope you go back to touring asap. Please share a final message with your fans and readers of Metal Imperium.

I really hope you enjoy the show! Thanks again for the interview and have a safe and happy holiday season!

For Portuguese version, click here

Questions by Sónia Fonseca