Trans-Siberian Orchestra

Paul O’Neill believes in magic.

The founder of Trans-Siberian Orchestra must because, at first glance, it seems like atremendous leap of faith to set a Christmas holiday standard like “O Holy Night” to the strains ofscreaming guitars and crashing drums.

But the merging of holiday and classical music with heavy metal seems to work, TSOsold out two seasonal runs of its rock opera, Christmas Eve and Other Stories, to prove it. Andjudging from presale figures, the group is going to do it again this year, with a twist.

So successful is the formula, O’Neill and musical collaborators Bob Kinkel and JonOliva, veteran manager David Krebs and The Agency Group’s Nick Caris expanded on the idea. Trans-Siberian Orchestra is touring two companies this season, one on each coast.

“It’s funny how only a few promoters got it in the beginning, like Jules Belkin,” Caristold POLLSTAR. “Now, after last Christmas, all of a sudden every promoter calls fromeverywhere. They want to do it, and some of them don’t have a clue what it is, but they knowthey missed something last year.”

In an uncertain climate in the wake of the September 11th tragedies, Caris has beenpleasantly surprised at the demand for tickets to this season’s tour (which kicks off November23rd for both touring companies).

“I guess it’s because … it’s such a warm, family experience. I think this is why we’reseeing the great ticket counts. People can only hear bad news so much. They want to dosomething with their families,” Caris said.

Thanks to O’Neill and his creative team, this isn’t your grandfather’s holiday concert,though. It’s probably not even your dad’s.

“I come from the world of epic rock ‘n’ roll where it’s, ‘Give me a big stage show with asmany lights as I can stick on the ceiling, and let me blow people away.’ And we definitely wantto take people for a roller coaster ride,” O’Neill said.

And they have. They don’t fit easily into a particular niche; the TSO style is as vast as,well, Siberia. “We have some six different radio formats presenting us,” Krebs said. “It’s a veryvast audience. It’s mostly baby boomers but it’s also other people who are into Def Leppard andBon Jovi and Aerosmith.

“In terms of combining rock and Christmas, the shows are brilliant. They create anamazing response from the audience. Every night is a standing ovation, with either company.Even people who are older get off on it. If you’re 80, I’m not so sure, but if you’re 30 or 40 or 50and with families this has a very interesting appeal,” Krebs said.

Trans-Siberian Orchestra

O’Neill cut his teeth on hard rock and heavy metal, having started his career managingand producing bands such as Aerosmith, Humble Pie and Scorpions while working for Krebs. After abandoning management for the creative side at Krebs’ urging, he began writing for andproducing the hard rock band Savatage, where he began working with Kinkel and Oliva.

The collaboration clicked. “We were always looking for a way to make the music cutdeeper. We tried to write the lyrics so that they were so good you didn’t need the music. Theystand up as just poetry. We were trying to write the music so that it was so great it didn’t need thelyrics; it would stand up by itself on the music box,” O’Neill said.

The business end of the team has clicked as well. “I’m happy to have the opportunity toonce again work with, in my opinion, one of the greatest managers: David Krebs, with whom Iworked on Ted Nugent, Scorpions, and Aerosmith. He has the knowledge of how to break aband from the road and utilize all the different marketing tools,” Caris said.

“Paul O’Neill is also a genius and a visionary whom I’ve known for many years. Bringingthe two of them together has just been a real pleasure.”

With its dream team in place, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra was born. Not exactly a band,not exactly an orchestra, and definitely not from Siberia, TSO is in many ways similar to aBroadway theatrical production with a cast of singers, rock musicians, a choir and symphonyorchestra that are interchangeable depending on the song and “characters.”

But hiring the top singers and musicians in the country, a 60-piece orchestra and a choir isone thing to do in a studio environment; taking them out on the road is quite another, especiallywhen you’re trying to keep ticket prices within reach of working-class families. There are twotouring companies of about 25 artists each, including six different singers, which keep costsdown.

“I grew up in New York City, with an Irish Catholic family, and my father, a great man raised 10 kids. My entire time growing up, I never went to a Broadway show because ticketswere so expensive,” O’Neill said.

“And that bothered me. Do we feed Grandma this weekend, or do we see TSO? To me,the arts should be affordable. One of the things I love about the technology revolution is that nowfor $10 anybody can go and get the greatest compositions of Mozart or Beethoven, played by theBerlin Philharmonic, and it’s affordable.

“It’s one of the magic things about American western civilization.”

Magic. There’s that word again. O’Neill uses it a lot in conversation.

“Great art, and this is the hard thing to do, will trigger a response that you’ve never feltbefore. That’s great art. And that’s what we try to do with TSO. So we’re talking about magicand touching people emotionally. We may not make it, but it’s where we’re aiming.”