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Trans-Siberian Orchestra founder loves Christmas

Published November 19, 2013 3:01 pm

Concert preview • Holiday rock opera hits Salt Lake City on Wednesday.
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The story of Christmas has inspired artists of all types for more than 2,000 years. Memorable creations such as Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," Bing Crosby's "White Christmas," Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker" ballet and countless great paintings celebrate the holiday in timeless fashion.

Paul O'Neill, the founder of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, calls the holiday "the holy grail in the arts."

"Anything to do with Christmas involves the best of the last 2,000 years," he said in a phone interview just as the group's 15th annual winter tour launched Wednesday. The group will bring "The Lost Christmas Eve" rock concert to Salt Lake City's EnergySolutions Arena.

"That is art that gets past the ultimate critic, which is time."

"The Lost Christmas Eve" is part of a TSO holiday trilogy that also includes "Christmas Eve and Other Stories" and "The Christmas Attic." The group is calling this year's performance of the rock opera an encore and final performance, though O'Neill won't rule out doing it again sometime in the distant future.

According to the group, the story of "The Lost Christmas Eve" includes a rundown hotel, an old toy store, a blues bar, a Gothic cathedral and their respective inhabitants intertwined in a single enchanted Christmas Eve in New York City. It will include rock, classical, folk, rhythm and blues and theatrical-styled music.

It is being performed in its entirety for the final time and will feature hits including "Wizards in Winter," "Christmas Nights in Blue" and "Siberian Sleigh Ride." It will then be followed by songs from last year's "Dreams of Fireflies (On a Christmas Night)," classics from the group's debut album and the rest of its catalog of rock operas.

The show combines music, a narrated Broadway-style story and bombastic staging on a $20 million arena stage setup that includes lasers, pyrotechnics and numerous surprises.

O'Neill, the second child in a family of 10 kids, admits to being somewhat of a sucker when it comes to Christmas. He enjoys telling personal stories about the holiday. The 40-year veteran of the music industry said the holiday provides a time when miracles of forgiveness happen.

He said he remembers walking home on Christmas Eve one year in his home of New York City, for example, and watching as a cab crashed into another cab.

"I was scared there was going to be a fight," he said.

Instead, the first driver offered the second driver his entire day's receipts to pay for the damage. The second wouldn't take it.

O'Neill saw a homeowner had taken the "Wizards in Winter" song and choreographed an entire Christmas light show based on the music that began to get thousands of hits on YouTube. He did some research and found the man's name and phone number. The man sounded nervous when the two connected, saying his wife warned him he was going to get a cease-and-desist order from the band. Instead, O'Neill offered him $5,000 to improve it.

As part of the holiday spirit, the band donates $1 from every ticket sold to charity, an amount that has reached more than $10 million in the past 14 years. And TSO is also known for trying to keep ticket prices to its shows affordable, with tickets ranging from $30 to $69 for the Salt Lake City shows Wednesday.

Not surprisingly, O'Neill also idolizes Walt Disney.

"I don't think any human being put a smile on more kids' faces than Disney did," he said. "I've always admired him."

O'Neill, who called Salt Lake City an important market to TSO's success, said the group consists of more than 80 members.

"It is designed to breathe and change, with new members coming," he said. "TSO is designed to grow, change and morph."

Fans will likely see some new staging tricks in a show O'Neill likes to call a combination of rock storytelling of The Who, the Broadway musical pioneered by Andrew Lloyd Webber and the light-show effects of Pink Floyd.


Trans-Siberian Orchestra in concert

When • Wednesday, 4 and 8 p.m.

Where • EnergySolutions Arena, 301 W. South Temple, Salt Lake City.

Tickets • $30 to $50 for 4 p.m. show, $39 to $69 for evening performance, at SmithTix or EnergySolutions Arena box office —

Trans-Siberian Orchestra facts

The band has been called a mix of The Who's Tommy, Andrew Lloyd Webber with Pink Floyd's lights.

Billboard Magazine ranks TSO in the list of top 25 touring artists between 1999 and 2009.

More than 1 million people watched TSO shows in 2012.

TSO has played live to more than 10 million people and grossed more than $400 million since its first tour in 1999.

The group has sold more than 10 million CDs.

TSO donates $1 from every ticket sold to charity and has donated more than $10 million in the past 14 years.

The group's recently released "Night Castle" album debuted at No. 5 in the Billboard Top 200.