Founder still part of Trans-Siberian Orchestra

A Q&A with guitarist — and now musical director — Al Pitrelli
Musicians perform high over the audience in this photo from a past Trans-Siberian Orchestra concert.
Musicians perform high over the audience in this photo from a past Trans-Siberian Orchestra concert.

Categories: Entertainment

Paul O’Neill will always be part of Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

The American music composer, producer and songwriter — and creator of the Christmas-friendly TSO — died in April at age 61. Medical officials ruled the death accidental; they said O’Neill died from an unexpected reaction to prescribed medications.

The Orchestra, which is always busiest during the holiday season, will remember O’Neill during an updated presentation of “The Ghosts of Christmas Eve: The Best of TSO and More” which plays two shows at the Times Union Center in Albany on Wednesday.

Show times are 3 and 8 p.m.

“I think the tour itself is addressing his passing,” said longtime TSO guitarist and now musical director Al Pitrelli. “I mean everything on that stage, I mean he created this … 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.”

Pitrelli answered questions from the media during a recent conference call, and discussed the new tour.

Question: How do you make sure there are enough familiar elements that stay the same each year within the show, but also changing it enough to keep things fresh?

Answer: We’ve become such a tradition. We’ve become to people what “It’s a Wonderful Life” or “Miracle on 34th Street” was to me when I was kid. This is something that people who have latched onto and made part of their holidays. Their families enjoy it and there are multi-generations of families just coming out and watching it. It’s a lot of fun. Most of the folks in the audience have the entire catalog, they’ve purchased the entire catalog or downloaded it or however you get music these days. We always keep that in mind. What’s their favorite songs? What are the songs that people always requesting? When you’re doing “The Ghost of Christmas Eve” like we are again this year, it’s almost the greatest hits collection anywhere so everybody will hear their favorites.

Q: What type of updates can the audience expect?

A: Well, we always try to change the front of the show and the back of the show. The rock opera portion of the show … will always remain the same, now albeit the production is always different. The look of the stage will be different, the lighting, the pyro, the lasers, the moving trusses, the video content. We’ll always try to upgrade that from year-to-year because 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. Now the front of the show being the front of the show, we want to introduce people to maybe some material that maybe we haven’t done in a few years and, of course, the back of the show, we have about 45 minutes to an hour to explore some of our catalog. There’s always a song that we’ll try to change up at least.

Q: What is your role as music director and how has it changed since Paul O’Neill’s passing?

A: I don’t think it’s changed, it’s the same thing. I’m in the very fortunate position of keeping my eye on the integrity of the music and the stories and the delivery live. Being a musical director is being like the conductor of a really, really good orchestra. You start these guys and stop them and when you surround them with such incredible talent you really don’t have to do much more than that. Most of the people on the stage have been together for the better part of 17, 18 years of live touring.

Q: What does it mean to you and the rest of the group just to be part of so many people’s holidays?

A: Oh, it’s incredibly surreal, you know? I mean, I recorded my guitar on Christmas Eve in the winter of 1995. That’s 22 years now. I hear it and it sounds like it was yesterday. I remember the first notes recorded and the first time I sat in the studio with Paul and Jon Oliva and everyone else involved and to hear it 22 years later and people to have embraced it as part of their holiday soundtrack it really just is surreal. 

Trans-Siberian Orchestra: ‘The Ghosts of Christmas Eve: The Best of TSO and More’

WHEN: Wednesday, 3 and 8 p.m.
WHERE: Times Union Center, 51 S. Pearl St., Albany
HOW MUCH: $46.75-$78.50

Reach Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 518-395-3124 or at [email protected].

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