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TSO keeps holiday tradition

The Trans-Siberian Orchestra performs Wednesday at Wachovia Arena. The show has come to the Wyoming Valley for eight years.

CHARLOTTE BARTIZEK FILE PHOTO/FOR THE TIMES LEADER

Going to see the Trans-Siberian Orchestra during the holiday season is becoming as much of a tradition as hanging your stockings by the chimney with care and visiting grandma.

For the eighth straight season, the popular purveyors of symphonic rock will appear at the Wachovia Arena at Casey Plaza. As part of a 90-city, 140-show tour, TSO will perform two concerts Wednesday at the Wilkes-Barre Township facility.

“It’s become a tradition for lots of people,” Bob Kinkel, co-producer, co-composer and musical director, said on a call from the orchestra’s technical rehearsals in Omaha, Neb. “They keep coming back and spreading the word.”

The group began in 1996 when Kinkel, Paul O’Neill and Jon Oliva, all veterans of hard-rock band Savatage, recorded the hugely successful “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24,” an orchestral reworking of “Carol of the Bells.” The album “Christmas Eve and Other Stories,” which has sold about 2.5 million copies, soon followed.

“It all evolved from that song,” Kinkel said. “It started with that, and the label asked us to make an entire Christmas album.

“And it sort of took off from there.”

TSO’s first tour lasted one week and played to 12,000 people in 1999. Last year’s tour attracted 1.2 million concert-goers, while this year’s is expected to draw 1.5 million.

“We’ve grown by word of mouth,” said the keyboard player who once worked as an assistant engineer on recordings by The Who, The Police and Genesis.

Part of the attraction is the phenomenal, state-of-the-art lighting and pyrotechnics show that accompanies the music. Kinkel said the first tour used one truckload of effects; now 16 are involved.

The name of the orchestra, he said, was inspired by the Trans-Siberian Railway, which connects Russia to the Far East, and many different people and cultures that would otherwise be isolated. Music, he said, does the same thing.

“Our show brings it all together,” he said. “It’s a feel-good, uplifting story of redemption and hope, combined with a full-out rock show, and it is accessible to all ages.”

The stage show also involves 24 musicians -- 18 of whom travel with the group and six local string players added in each city – who play a mixture of progressive rock, heavy metal, jazz and classical music. The Wachovia Arena show will feature Anita Boyer, Cathy Cavella, Amy Flannery, Richard Hotchkiss, Miha Radu and Kelsey Schmidt.

TSO has been described as a blend of the theatrical appeal of “Phantom of the Opera” combined with the rock opera of The Who’s “Tommy,” with a dash of everything from Mozart and Strauss to Queen, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and Motown.

The group prides itself on the fact that its shows have remained affordable while others have been priced out of the reach of many families.

“All the money is up there on the stage,” the musical director said. “We try to do a better show every year, with a totally new production.

“Many people come up to us after the shows and say they didn’t think we could make it any better than the last one, but we always seem to pull it off.”

The group has been working on its latest album, “Night Castle,” since previewing “O Fortuna” at shows in 2004. Kinkel said the long-awaited record has reached the final mixing stage and should be released early next year.

IF YOU GO

Who: Trans-Siberian Orchestra

When: 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. Wednesday

Where: Wachovia Arena at Casey Plaza, Wilkes-Barre Township

Tickets: $24.75 to $49.50

Call: 693-4100 or visit www.ticketmaster.com

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