From “Wizards in Winter” to “Christmas Canon,” one very iconic holiday music act has been rocking arenas for 25 years. The sounds of the Trans Siberian Orchestra have long been dominant on the holiday scene, since the formation of the band in 1996 when it debuted its iconic rock opera. A Christmas Trilogy soon followed, with seven studio albums and several singles such as “Christmas in Sarajevo,” certified gold. Hallmark-sponsored TSO graced its presence at the Mid America Center in Council Bluffs, Iowa, Wednesday night. Christmas started off right with TSO kicking off its first leg of their winter tour in the Midwest. 199 performances are slated to play across America before the close of the year. A staple of the season, TSO continues to amaze and awe audiences for decades. The caliber of production alone is one of the best of 25 top touring artists of the past decade, an accolade lauded by Billboard. A stellar production with lasers, lights, and pyrotechnics, the Trans Siberian Orchestra is a sight, both visually and audibly to behold.
The show opened with “An Angel Came Down,” with swirling smog, dimmed lighting and the deep, beautiful vocals of a male soloist. Other favorites such as “O Come All Ye Faithful/O Holy Night,” “Christmas in Sarajevo,”and “This Christmas Day,” were highlights of the evening. Even a little bit of Beethoven and a moving song the late Paul O’Neill wrote titled “Can You Hear Me,” was added.
As the title of the tour suggests, storytelling is a theme that is interwoven throughout the production. Narration is prominent and the story arc and art of performance over time has evolved. A central theme that remains is that of an angel that visits earth in search of kindness and goodwill found in mankind. Each song segues into another part of the story that takes place on Christmas Eve. Few songs are as iconic as TSO’s “Sarajevo,” a particularly emotive take on the classic “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen and Carol of the Bells.” TSO performed it Wednesday evening with blazing guitar solos and a violin that lit the stage on fire. The backstory on the piece is even more compelling. The narrator on stage tells a tale of a celloist from Sarajevo who returns to his homeland during the Bosnian conflict, and as the city was being shelled stands out in the rubble as it snowed, playing classical music and Christmas carols. Dueling orchestral and rock instruments during the number represent the Serbians and Bosnians, with a lone cello the representation of the spirit of humanity and what the late O’Neill referred to as a spark of hope.
TSO revels in a glory of a stage that continuously transforms, with state-of-the-art suspended pyramid framed projections and dazzling lighting displays that help to tell the story and paint a fantasy. Smog drifts across the in slower, ballad like numbers, and synchronized flames either shoot from the stage or are airborne, perfectly timed to the sizzling distortion of electric guitars. TSO wouldn’t be TSO without flawlessly choreographed back-up singers and vocalists that bring down the house (and manage to expertly steer clear of flames dancing in all directions). At times the projections and lighting paint digital illusions on a massive wall of screens, from a sailing ship to gliding dragon projections or giant marching nutcrackers. Snow even drifted down from overhead. Two productions tour simultaneously in different locations across the nation.
Hailing from New York, the heavy metal band Savatage formed the Trans Siberian Orchestra in which Jon Oliva was the front man and creator. Al Pitrelli studied classical and jazz, and the genre has stuck with him ever since. Musical influences such as Queen, Pink Floyd, and The Who were undoubtedly inspiration for Oliva and Pitrelli to bring their progressive rock formation to life. Often said to be a cross between “The Who meets Phantom of the Opera with Pink Floyd’s light show,” The Trans Siberian Orchestra could be described as classical music as well as symphonic progressive rock tinged with Gospel and jazz. A culmination of musical as well as literary influences serve as the foundation for the rock sensation.
The Trans Siberian Orchestra can be non-other described as a magical, electrical experience, an alchemy that happens where symphonic rock meets the sounds of timeless holiday melodies.