The Hippo


Jun 4, 2020








Trans-Siberian Orchestra 

When: Saturday, Nov. 25, 3 and 8 p.m.
Where: SNHU Arena, 444 Elm St., Manchester
Tickets: $63.50 and up at

Ghosts of Christmas
Trans-Siberian Orchestra returns

By Michael Witthaus

 When Trans-Siberian Orchestra played Christmas Eve and Other Stories live for the first time, the mashup of arena rock, classical music and holiday songs performed by what guitarist Jeff Plate termed “long-haired metal guys dressed in tuxedos” was bold, groundbreaking.

Two decades on, the rock orchestra’s annual tour is woven into the fabric of the season. 
“We’ve become to people what It’s a Wonderful Life or Miracle on 34th Street was to me when I was kid,” music director and guitarist Al Pitrelli said in a September teleconference. “This is something that people have latched on to and made part of their holidays.”
TSO returns to Manchester for two performances on Nov. 25, featuring the show that launched the group nationally,  The Ghosts of Christmas Eve. Originally a 1999 made-for-TV movie, it’s been updated for the 60-city, 100-show tour. 
“The look of the stage will be different, the lighting, the pyro, the lasers, the moving trusses, the video content,” Pitrelli said. “We never really want to repeat ourselves; but we do want to have the familiarity of the rock opera that the people have really fallen in love with.”
That said, a cloud of loss will hang over the tour, as 2017 has been a year of tragedy for the beloved ensemble. In July, TSO bassist David Zablidowsky was killed when a tractor-trailer hit the RV he was riding in. His passing came a mere two months after founder and visionary Paul O’Neill died from an accidental overdose of prescription medicine in a Florida hotel room.
Pitrelli, one of three musicians recruited by O’Neill in 1993 to form TSO, is resolute that the band will continue in the wake of losing its founder. He  recalled late night talks when O’Neill spoke of TSO’s longevity spanning generations. 
“He wants our children and our children’s children to be aware of what we did,” Pitrelli said. “People used to compare it to Pink Floyd and ELP and things like that. Paul chose to try to compare it to the works of maybe Mozart and Beethoven. He wants people to remember this 200 and 300 years down the road, not just 30 or 40.”
As in the past, reinvention and refinement of the show will continue, incorporating new visual ideas and ever modernized technology.
“The arts are always evolving; art is so alive,” Pitrelli said. “Somebody overheard me and Paul talking and they kind of used the quote from us. Paul said, ‘A complete art is a dead art. Once an art form is complete then it dies.’ This art form will never be complete; therefore it will just continue to live on and evolve and grow up.”
Asked about plans to memorialize O’Neill during shows, Pitrelli said, “I think the tour itself is addressing his passing. ... It’s a tribute to the man’s genius and again the legacy that will be carried on by his family. .... From my heart right now, I think that every note that I play on the guitar, every note that’s sung by the singers, how it’s presented by the production staff, by his family, I think that everybody knows that everything is a tribute to Paul.”
Zablidowsky, called David Z by his bandmates, joined TSO the early 2000s. 
“We watched him grow up and ... mature as an artist, as a person, as a performer,” Pitrelli said. “Again, there’s just another hole not only in our hearts, but his poor parents. I mean, no parent should ever bury their child.” 
Many of O’Neill’s musical stories are rooted in themes of loss and redemption similar to what they’re now experiencing — ironic, Pitrelli said. 
“It’s funny that even from the other side, Paul is still always going to teach all of us to ... tell someone you love them [or] say goodnight to the person you love if something went upside down,” he said. “You’re not guaranteed there’s a tomorrow to fix it, so just take care of everything right now. Every day’s a gift.” 
As TSO grew from a musical idea into an institution, Pitrelli felt like one of many strange relatives helping O’Neill raise his baby. 
“Every year we just keep feeding this thing and nurturing it and taking care of it, treating it like a growing child to the point where it’s become something so big and so incredible and it’s reached so many people we never thought we’d reach,” he said. “It’s been a privilege to be part of it all these years. Again, I got to be the weird uncle in the corner. That’s the only way I could describe it. A lot of aunts and uncles, and we’re all really proud of what they’ve created.” 

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