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Trans-Siberian Orchestra blends classical, metal, holiday music in onstage spectacle

He poses a question but allows no time for a response.

This is for two reasons.

For one, Al Pitrelli seldom ever pauses when he speaks, his rapid-fire delivery approximating the velocity of a speeding taxicab in his native New York City.

Secondly, the question is a rhetorical one, at least in the mind of the veteran guitarist and musical director of the classical-metal-holiday music hybrid ensemble the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

OK, Al, go for it.

“Why not play Mozart’s 24th symphony and put all the pyro you can onstage?” he asks.

“Why not?” he repeats.

He briefly catalogs some TSO trademarks: classical guitar pieces paired with hard rock vocal back flips; dueling piano interludes equally indebted to Lynyrd Skynrd and Sergei Rachmaninov; a stage show as overblown as a pro wrestler’s biceps.

“Why?” he continues, pondering the TSO aesthetic. “Because we can.”

“It’s art for the sake of art,” he summarizes. “This is what this is.”

That, and 18 tractor-trailer trucks full of gear for TSO’s annual winter tour, which is a growing Yuletide tradition, right up there with spiked eggnog, for an audience that has come to number in the millions since TSO was founded in 1993.

The band is perhaps best known for “Christmas Eve Sarajevo 12/24,” an instrumental pairing of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and “Carol of the Bells” done in hard rock form with crunchier-than-broken-glass guitars, that propelled their 1996 debut “Christmas Eve and Other Stories” to sales of more than 3 million.

Since then, the group has two more seasonal records and a pair of non-Christmas rock opera discs, most recently 2009’s double album “Night Castle,” which are similarly grandiose in terms of scope and orchestral heft.

The group has become a major touring draw, so much so that two different incarnations of the group hit the road simultaneously under the TSO name this time of year.

TSO is so in demand, that they play two shows a day in most markets, each one clocking in at nearly 2½ hours, and are performing 118 times on their current outing.

Despite all this, Pitrelli, a guitar lifer who has played with artists as varied as Michael Bolton and Megadeth, admits how unlikely the band’s success has been.

He equates it to a bumble bee’s improbable ability to fly.

“It’s an impossibility that a body that large with such small wings can get airborne,” he says. “We just forgot to tell the bee that.”

Maybe so, but it still took awhile for TSO’s booming career to fully register with Pitrelli.

“When my mother would turn around and say that she loves the ‘Christmas Eve Sarajevo’ song that she keeps hearing on the radio and didn’t know that it was me playing guitar on it, I said, ‘OK, that’s kind of cool,’ ” he recalls. “When my first ex-wife was asking me for tickets for the show because she really loves it, I said, ‘OK, that’s kind of cool.’ When my kids would say, ‘Hey, Daddy, that’s kind of cool what you’re doin’,’ I’m like, ‘Wow, man, that’s three generations of people that are appreciating the same thing, and most of these people don’t like me,’ ” he chuckles. “I realized that we’re up to something here.”

That something could be distilled down to a single word: bombast.

TSO is guided by the same impulse as someone feasting at an all-you-eat-buffet: There’s no limits on anything, so gorge.

Two helpings of Broadway-worthy theatrics?

Why stop there?

A heaping plate of prog-rock pomp?

Loosen the belt and go for it.

And when they’ve had their fill, they bring it all to a concert hall near you.

“Good old-fashioned American arena rock, dude, there is nothing like it,” Pitrelli says of TSO’s modus operandi. “And the great American rock concert is alive and well, OK?”

Another line in the form of a question.

Once again, it’s rhetorical.

Contact reporter Jason Bracelin at jbracelin@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0476.

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