Trans-Siberian Orchestra: Christmas time in the city


December 16, 2007
Verizon Center
Washington, D.C.


In the beginning (1981) there was Avatar, co-founded in Florida by brothers Jon and Chris Oliva. In 1984 Avatar changed its name to Savatage and released its first album, Sirens, and it was good.

In 1986, Savatage was the opening act on a European tour with Motorhead. Producer Paul O’Neill was in the audience for one of the shows. He listened, and it was good.

In 1987, O’Neill was hired to produce Savatage’s fifth album, Hall of the Mountain King. The album contains the group’s first symphonic instrumental, “Prelude to Madness,” which is their metal arrangement of the classic work “In the Hall of the Mountain King” from Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite. And it was good.

In 1991, Savatage recorded its first rock opera, Streets.

In 1995, Savatage recorded its second rock opera, Dead Winter Dead. The instrumental “Christmas Eve ( Sarajevo, 12/24)” became an unexpected radio hit.

In 1996, inspired by the success of “Christmas Eve,” the group wrote and recorded the first Trans-Siberian Orchestra album, Christmas Eve & Other Stories. “Christmas Eve” was re-released as a TSO song. O’Neill, Jon Oliva and Bob Kinkel formed the core of the writing team. (Kinkel joined Savatage as keyboardist for Hall of the Mountain King.)

TSO gave its first live concert performance in December 1999 at the Tower Theater in Upper Darby, Pa. I was there. Although the group continued to tour each year afterward, I didn’t see another show until 2004, and I’ve seen them every year since. After 1999, there were actually two Trans-Siberian Orchestras—an East Coast troupe and a West Coast troupe. Each troupe has members from the original band. Each troupe also has a string section composed of local musicians from each concert city.

Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s music is a unique blend of metal, classical, Broadway and traditional Christmas carols, with a sprinkling of blues, jazz and opera. One reviewer wrote they were like “Andrew Lloyd Webber on steroids.” I have never seen a better live performance.


This year, on Dec. 16, I saw TSO’s matinee performance at Washington, D.C.’s Verizon Center. The concert was divided into two parts. For the first hour and a half, TSO presented the storyline from their first CD, complete with a narrator (Bryan Hicks) speaking in rhyming verse. After a five-minute break to introduce the band members, TSO played for another hour, featuring selections from The Christmas Attic, The Lost Christmas Eve, Beethoven’s Last Night, the not-yet-released Night Castle and several cover songs.

Following the instrumental number that opened the show, there was a magical moment when Hicks snapped his fingers to start the story and thousands of twinkle lights came on to create a giant star field at the back of the stage. Another magical moment occurred when TSO began to play the instrumental “First Snow” and snow fell on the audience from high above. The falling flakes sparkled as they floated down through laser beams shooting out over the crowd.

Powerful vocal performances were given for such numbers as “The Prince of Peace,” “Ornament,” “This Christmas Day,” “An Angel’s Share” and “Christmas Canon Rock.” Perhaps the best vocal performance of the show came when TSO performed "O Fortuna" from Carl Orff's Carmina Burana.

The battery of male vocalists included Steve Broderick, Jay Pierce, James Lewis and Peter Shaw. The female singers were Jennifer Cella, Alexa Goddard, Heather Gunn and Danielle Lendherr, all of whom would qualify for a “hottest chicks in rock” tour. At times throughout the show, the two guitarists and two keyboardists also stepped up to their microphones, making TSO 12 voices strong!

As good as the vocals were, Trans-Siberian Orchestra really rocked the house with their instrumental numbers, especially their signature songs “Christmas Eve ( Sarajevo, 12/24),” and “Wizards in Winter.” “Wish Liszt (Toy Shop Madness),” “Mad Russian’s Christmas,” “The March of the Kings/Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” “Mozart/Figaro,” “Requiem (The Fifth)” and “Beethoven” were all showstoppers.

The talented musicians in the band included lead/rhythmguitarists Chris Caffery and Alex Skolnick, bass guitarist Chris Altenhoff, keyboardists Mee Kim and Bob Kinkel, drummer Jeff Plate and string master Mark Wood (who led the string section and played the electric violin). Besides Kinkel, Caffery, Skolnick, and Plate also have played with Savatage.

Did I mention the light show? The entire performance was a spectacle of colored laser beams and spotlights; flashing red and blue rows and columns of chevrons of light at the back of the stage; pulsating strobes; jets of red, blue and green flames; dancing fireballs; fireworks pinwheels; fireworks fountains; and a fireworks waterfall.

Before the concert started, Trans-Siberian Orchestra continued their practice of donating $1 from every ticket sold to a local charity. They presented a check for more than $11,000 to The Ocean Foundation of Washington, D.C.

If I were to list the most memorable concerts I’ve seen, the list would include The Who (1969), Led Zeppelin (1973), Metallica (1992) and Trans-Siberian Orchestra (2004, 2005, 2006, 2007). In the local region, there’s still one more chance for you to see this amazing show at the 1st Mariner Arena in Baltimore at 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 6, 2008. Go. You won’t regret it, and you’ll never forget it.