"It's kind of like having a child; there's no secret," says Al Pitrelli, guitarist and founding member of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. "You give birth to something. You're there from its inception. You fall in love with it the second it opens its eyes. And 20 years later, you realize that it's grown up into something you're so proud of."
For the past 18-plus years, TSO has been synonymous with Yuletide for fans of progressive and neoclassical metal. Known for operatic stage shows, TSO was formed by producer Paul O'Neill, who enlisted coproducer Robert Kinkel, rock musician Jon Oliva, and Pitrelli.
Tours for holiday albums like Christmas Eve and Other Stories and The Lost Christmas Eve have become unofficial traditions. And for the first time, TSO is performing its middle album, The Christmas Attic, as the show opener.
"The short version of the story is that we started touring in '99 and had seven or eight cities on the itinerary that first year," Pitrelli says, recalling the early days of TSO. "By the following year, there was 50 cities, and we're at a point now of 120-something, so we haven't really had a chance to catch a breath."
"For ten years, we were performing Christmas Eve and Other Stories, and about three years ago, Paul said, 'Hey, let's change it up,' because he wanted to perform The Lost Christmas Eve. So we did that for a couple of years, and someone said, 'Why don't we do Christmas Attic this year?' And of course we should! That was the second of the Christmas-operas trilogy that for some reason got stepped over, and now it was time for that child to have its swing at the plate."
With the album re-released, TSO has been balancing its set with Christmas Attic followed by other popular tracks, playing "some new material that we've been recording, as well as a lot of the stuff that got us where we are," Pitrelli says. "To the community that has followed us all these years, we've become a bit of a tradition, and we'd never roll out of town and not play the songs that helped get us here."
For Christmas detractors and for those who think TSO is a milquetoast representation of the holiday, it's important to note that a portion of the orchestra's ticket sales benefit international and local charities. "There are a lot less fortunate than us," Pitrelli points out. "If we can make it a better planet just by helping someone, note by note, smile by smile, any which way that you can -- that's what it's all about."
Trans-Siberian Orchestra. 4 and 8 p.m. Friday, December 12, at BB&T Center, 1 Panther Parkway, Sunrise. Tickets cost $30 to $68.50 plus fees via ticketmaster.com. All ages. Call 954-835-8000, or visit thebbtcenter.com.