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Christmas in Siberia 

by Mike Corrigan


What do you get when you blend classical symphonics with rock riffs? If you said Emerson, Lake and Palmer, then you and I are in the same ballpark. In the hands of composer and lyricist Paul O'Neill, founder of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, however, what emerges from such a union is an odd hybrid of glittery '80s pop metal and classical strings that has found favor with a faction of music lovers less than enamoured with more traditional Christmas music programs. The Trans-Siberian Orchestra brings its holiday offering, "Christmas Eve and Other Stories," to the Spokane Opera House on Friday, Dec. 7. Traditional Christmas music it's not.


So just what exactly is the Trans-Siberian Orchestra? And what distinguishes it from the hundreds of groups that have attempted to "legitimize" rock with an infusion of classical influences only to wind up with something that was lesser, not greater, than the sum of its parts?


O'Neill founded the group in 1996 with longtime friends Robert Kinkel and Jon Oliva. Together, the three form the writing team. O'Neill's background is in rock, and he spent years writing and producing with various rock groups before forming TSO. While seeking a way to give his productions greater emotional impact, O'Neill hit upon the TSO formula: creating music with no boundaries and presenting it in the context of a story.


O'Neill explains: "First the music is created with no artificial limitations, and then we seek out within the classical, rock, Broadway and R & amp; B worlds, the very best singers and musicians to bring each song to life. This also in many ways forces us to operate on a higher level."


"Christmas Eve and Other Stories" is a rock opera, a spectacle complete with searing guitar riffs, orchestral flourishes, flowing hair and lots and lots of fog. The story behind the music chronicles the mission of an angel, sent to Earth by God to bring him "The one thing that represents everything good that has been done in the name of this day."


Still not sure what to make of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra? Me neither, but I'm pretty sure it doesn't have anything to do with Siberia.

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