Rock Rewind: Trans-Siberian Orchestra Brings The Spirit Of Christmas

Where Rock n' Roll Meets Classical

Trans-Siberian Orchestra came together when Paul O’Neill joined Robert Kinkel, Jon Oliva, and Al Pitrell in 1996. By 1999, the band had gained mainstream popularity and their success grew from there.

Over the years, the TSO has become known for its rock operas and seasonal playlists. They were even named one of the top touring artists of the past decade

So, let’s take a deeper look into TSO’s history …

How Trans-Siberian Orchestra Began

Paul O’Neill was a manager, producer, and promoter on the rock music scene. Throughout his decades-long career, he worked with several well-known musicians including Aerosmith, Def Leppard, Madonna, Sting, AC/DC, Joan Jett, and many more.

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He also worked with the band Savantage, which is where he met Oliva and Pitrell.

In 1996, Atlantic Records’ offered to let O’Neill start his own band. Idolizing artists like Queen, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, and Led Zeppelin, he decided to marry classical and rock music. 

O’Neill shares, “I wanted to take the very best of all the forms of music I grew up on and merge them into a new style … Basically, I was building on the work of everybody I worshipped: the rock opera parts from bands like the Who; the marriage of classical and rock from bands like Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Queen; the over-the-top light show from bands like Pink Floyd … I always wanted to do a full rock opera with a full progressive band and at least 18 lead singers.”

He pulled together Oliva, Pitrell, and Kinkell and began work on what would become Trans-Siberian Orchestra. The band’s website shares that O’Neill’s main goal was to create a progressive rock band that pushed the boundaries further than any other band. 

Where Trans-Siberian Orchestra Got Their Name

In an interview with Citizen’s Voice, O’Neill recalls the origins of the band’s name.

“In the 1980s, I was fortunate enough to have visited Russia. If anyone has ever seen Siberia, it is incredibly beautiful but incredibly harsh and unforgiving as well. The one thing that everyone who lives there has in common, that runs across it … is the Trans-Siberian Railway.

Life, too, can be incredibly beautiful but also incredibly harsh and unforgiving, and the one thing that we all have in common that runs across it … is music. It was a little bit overly philosophical, but it sounded different, and I like the initials, TSO.”

BONUS FACT: O’Neill was a huge fan of history. His personal library had over 50,000 books, some of Churchill’s letters and more. 

Trans-Siberian Orchestra Discography

Since 1996, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra has put out:

1 EPDreams Of Fireflies (2012)

1 Compilation Album Tales Of Winter: Selections From The TSO Rock Operas (2013)

They’ve also released 1 made for TV movie (The Ghosts Of Christmas Eve – 1999) and 6 studio albums …

1. Christmas Eve and Other Stories (1996)

Christmas Eve and Other Stories was TSO’s debut album and the first album in the “Christmas Trilogy.”In a 2010 interview, O’Neill shared, “My original concept [for TSO] was six rock operas, a trilogy about Christmas and maybe one or two regular albums.”

Released in October 1996, Christmas Eve has become the 9th best-selling Christmas album in the US and produced one of the best-selling Christmas songs of all time, “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24.”

Christmas Eve is a rock opera that follows a young man listening to the stories of an older gentleman he met in a bar on Christmas Eve. His stories tell of an angel who comes to earth to find kindness fueled by the spirit of Christmas. O’Neill eventually turned the album into a book of the same name, which was illustrated by Greg Hildebrandt.

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2. The Christmas Attic (1998)

TSO’s second studio album is another rock opera and the second installment of the “Christmas Trilogy.” Again, the album follows an angel sent down to earth, but this time the angel must leave something behind that will benefit all mankind without taking anything from heaven.

Like Christmas Eve and Other Stories, The Christmas Attic was turned into a story by O’Neill. Unlike the first installment, it was not published as an illustrated book.

3. Beethoven’s Last Night (2000)

Taking a break from the “Christmas Trilogy,” TSO‘s third studio album is a rock opera about Beethoven’s last night. It tells the story of how the devil came for Beethoven’s soul but promised to leave it with him if all his works are erased from mankind’s memory. Beethoven ends up tricking the devil only to learn his soul was never at risk.

The album is made up of rock songs using classical melodies, most of which are from Beethoven.

4. The Lost Christmas Eve (2004)

In 2004, TSO released the last of their “Christmas Trilogy” albums. The Lost Christmas Eve tells of the angel’s third trip to earth where he is not allowed to use his wings. During his travels, he learns that all mankind does the work of the Son when they “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”

The album certified gold within 5 weeks and was double platinum by 2013. It is also the 20th best-selling Christmas album in the US.

5. Night Castle (2009)

TSO’s fifth rock opera was released in 2009 with an accompanying booklet illustrated by Greg Hildebrandt. The album debuted at #5 on the Billboard charts and #1 on the rock charts. Now certified platinum, it went gold in it’s first 8 weeks.

This time, the band’s story tells of a young child who meets are stranger on the beach one night. While building a sandcastle together, the stranger shares stories from around the world and throughout time.

Some of the songs on Night Castle take from music previously released by Savantage.

6. Letters from the Labyrinth (2015)

Trans-Siberian Orchestra released their most recent studio album in 2015. The album is a collection of songs and stories that pays tribute to Night Castle.

Upon its release, Letters From The Labyrinth peaked at #7 on the top 200 and #1 on the rock charts.

The album had mixed reviews from critics. Some praised the band’s ability to educate, enlighten and entertain all at the same time. Others felt the playing was amazing but that the album was “a little tedious.” Still, the album topped the rock chart and made it to Billboard 200 at #7.

Since 1996, Trans-Siberian Orchestra has been creating unique classical/rock mashups and enthralling stories. Although their music has been met with mixed reviews, their albums continue to be popular, especially during the holidays and have sold millions of copies.

Today, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra continues to dazzle fans with elaborate concerts, especially around the holidays. And there’s no denying that their albums have revolutionized the way rock and classical music intertwine.

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