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Orchestrating tradition

The Baltimore Sun

Few musical groups are as aptly named as the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

Paul O'Neil, co-founder of the progressive symphonic rock group, was inspired by the Trans-Siberian Railroad.

To O'Neil, music is similar to the famed transportation system in the way that it connects different cultures, nationalities and backgrounds.

Perhaps unexpectedly, O'Neil's collaboration with fellow producer/musician Robert Kinkel and composer Jon Oliva would prove TSO's name fitting - as their music would connect a variety of people, usually divided by choices in music or live entertainment.

According to Kinkel, TSO's co-founder, music director and touring keyboard player, it's still somewhat surprising how fans are affected by the music and live shows.

"The age range of our fans is amazing," Kinkel says. "Seventy-year-old grandmothers have come up to me after a show to say how they were blaring us in the car on their way over to see the show.

"It's nice to know that you've reignited the excitement of someone who was old enough to have experienced Woodstock," he says.

Coming to the 1st Mariner Arena on Sunday, TSO has managed to strike a chord in different age groups by delivering epic, symphonic rock renditions of Christmas and classical rock songs, interweaving them into a narrative fabric that explores topics such as redemption and hope.

Because of the success of the double platinum-selling Christmas Eve and Other Stories in 1996 and The Christmas Attic in 1998, TSO hit the road in 1999 with Kinkel at the helm as music director and keyboard player of the live, two-part, 2 1/2 -hour rock opera, featuring more than 20 vocalists and musicians and an awe-inspiring light show.

TSO has also released two other albums. There was 2000's gold-selling concept album Beethoven's Last Night, and 2004's platinum-selling The Lost Christmas Eve. The group is working on a non-Christmas album called Nightcastle.

For some fans, it has become somewhat of a tradition to see a TSO show during the holiday season. Those who have been to more than one TSO show notice changes from year to year beyond just the set list - particularly with the glowing neon lights and pyrotechnic displays above the stage. Kinkel says that with the start of every winter tour, TSO makes an effort to increase the effects, taking the stage light show a step beyond the year before.

"On this year's tour, we've added more truckloads of special effects gear than ever before," he says. "We have to keep it interesting for those who come see us as part of a holiday tradition."

Like the fans, touring and performing during the holidays has also become a tradition for the performers and crew.

This year, they all spent Christmas on tour. According to Kinkel, the performers and crew didn't seem to mind.

"We've all developed into a big family from being on the road all the time," Kinkel says. "We just rent out about 90 hotel rooms and a banquet hall and make the best of it."

The Trans-Siberian Orchestra will perform at 7:30 p.m. Sunday at the 1st Mariner Arena, 201 W. Baltimore St. Admission is $37-$47. For tickets, go to or call 410-547-7328.

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