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Trans-Siberian Orchestra

Not to be Confused with the Electic Light Orchestra

By Brian M. Loux

The Trans-Siberian Orchestra may not be familiar to many, but almost everyone has at least once heard their hit Christmas Eve: Sarajevo on a rock radio station or in a sports stadium. Combining driving rock with classical music like Beethoven and Carol of the Bells, they have created a unique sound all their own. The orchestra was ultimately the creation of Robert Kinkel (who now is a producer for the tour) and friends growing off of the success of their collaboration on Savatage’s rock opera Dead Winter Dead. Kinkel was able to speak to The Tech about this year’s tour and the orchestra’s origins.

The Tech: There have been reports from some radio stations that Savatage and Metallica have worked with the Orchestra in the past.

Robert Kinkel: No, not Metallica. But Al Petrelli, who’s been taking up the West Coast Tour this season was in Megadeth for a while and also Alice Cooper.

TT: Why did you decide to split the two tours into east and west?

RK: We’re touring our Christmas show, and there are only so many days between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day and we had so many requests from cities to have us come and play that the only way we could viably do it was to split the band down the middle.

TT: You had enough people for that?

RK: Yeah we’ve had a lot of people over the course of the 3 CDs that it’s been easy to find people of top quality. These are the best players I’ve ever worked with. The two tours are equal as far as musicianship and singers. We made sure to have some original singers on both tours.

TT: Are there special logistical requirements for the guitarists and the singers when they perform with the orchestral?

RK: Not really. At all times we have 21 people on stage: a full rock band (2 guitarists, 2 keyboards, and base drums), an 8 piece string section, 6 singers and a narrator plus a light show designed by Brian Harley who works with KISS and other bands. For the first half we perform the first CD (Christmas Eve and other Stories) which is a Rock Opera. It combines Rock and Roll, Classical Music, Orchestral Music, Theatrical Music and even some R and B as well. For the first half you’re though the stories emotional journey, which is more theatrical. Then in the second half there is a traditional rock show.

TT: How is the story from Christmas Eve and Other Stories told?

RK: On the CD pullout there is poetry in between each song. That is what is being read. We have Tim Cain who is reading it, with music behind him as he reads. He is an amazing storyteller.

TT: Has the TSO done any other CDs besides the two Christmas ones?

RK: We have three. Christmas Eve is first, The Christmas Attic is second, and our third is called Beethoven’s Last Night. It’s our first non-holiday release. In the second half of the show we draw from the second and third CDs

TT: You worked with Savatage in their opera Dead Winter Dead. Did they perform that alone or with an orchestra?

RK: With Savatage you don’t do too much live orchestral music like in TSO. I’ve been working with Savatage since 1986 with their Hall of the Mountain King record. That is how the three of us (guitarists) met. I was brought in as a keyboard player to do orchestral stuff for them.

TT: Did the work there influence you to create the TSO?

RK: Well, it grew out of that. (Exec Producer and Savatage producer) Paul O’Neil and I started writing together in the early 90’s. Paul and (Savatage’s) Jon Oliva have been writing together for a long time. I was brought in to add another musical direction to the group. We have written a broadway play Romanov: When Kings must Whisper. It’s something where you aren’t restricted to a rock band where you have only 1 or 2 singers. Like the TSO, it became another outlet for another side of our musicality. And we are always able to find the right singer for each role from bands we know or broadway shows or auditions.

TT: What were some of your highlights with Aerosmith?

RK: Well Paul produced some of Aerosmith’s classic live CDs and I helped him out with that. Plus I worked with them in Record Plant on their Rock and Hard Place album.

TT: So you majored in Music and minored in physics and later went to Columbia on a Physics Fellowship. Why did you choose music?

RK: Well, it was the musical part of me. I’ve always been playing in bands and with keyboards. I’ve always been interested in the technical side of music as well as the playing side of it.

TT: Is that where the physics background came in.

RK: Yeah (nervously). The physics actually always interested me so it was just kinda fun. Nowadays I like to read Science Times for fun. While I was at Columbia I just had an opportunity to work at Record Plant and I realized then that was what I wanted to do, so I left the masters program.

TT: What is Record Plant?

RK: It was a major production studio in New York at the time. It’s not there anymore. I remember the first day I walked in and Cindy Lauper was doing her debut album, Joan Jett was down the hall, J. Giles Band was doing “Freeze Frame” upstairs, and Tom Petty walked through. Within six months of being there I was out recording my favorite band, The Who.

TT: Did the inspiration of the music with TSO come from The Who and Tommy?

RK: Well, it came from everywhere. It was definitely part of the list but also part of that were the classical composers, especially the Russian composers. I also grew up listening to progressive rock and traditional rock and those influenced me too. We all have a lot to draw from; it’s not like there is one source we can credit.

TT: How do you draw from two somewhat different musical styles?

RK: Well, there in the metal world and the progressive rock world there is a lot of crossover. In the high level of musicianship people always will turn to the classics in a lot of ways. It’s not that hard to incorporate. Melody is melody.

TT: How do you deal with classic music purists?

RK: To be honest, we haven’t gotten too much of that. Last year when we were touring, we’re asked to all sign a 12 year old’s violin. Most people who do it think the performances are wonderful. I was talking to the director of the Opera House in Detroit last weekend. He thought [our use of classical composers] was amazing, and that’s from a director of an Opera House. From my experiences, it is very well received all around.

TT: What does the orchestra do in the other seasons?

RK: Right now we are working on putting together a tour of Beethoven’s last night this spring. A lot of the time is also spend on new writing. We are working on compiling the Romanov: When Kings Must Whisper CD as well as a third Christmas CD, The Christmas CD. We are also developing a much lighter CD called Running with Passions of Fairytales that will for emphasize the storytelling aspect of our past works. The story aspect has become sort of our trademark.

The Trans-Siberian Orchestra will perform in Boston the 14th and 15th at the Orpheum Theater.