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Trans-Siberian Orchestra celebrates 20 years of Christmas concerts

LOS ANGELES — In his annual media teleconference with reporters and writers across the country, Trans-Siberian Orchestra creator, lyricist and composer Paul O'Neill said he and his team work hard each year to create a dazzling concert that's cutting-edge, spectacular and affordable.

"Every time the people in the audience think they've seen everything we have to offer, we'll have five more tricks in our back pocket," he said.

The Trans-Siberian Orchestra 60-piece heavy metal, progressive rock group is celebrating its 20th year of Christmas shows, which started with what was supposed to be a one-hour, one-time television special and evolved into a record-breaking tradition.

"Does it feel like 20 years? No, it feels like 20 minutes," O'Neill said. "I'd love to say we planned this, but it was just pure luck. The only problem is we have to take it to another level every year. That's what happens with success."

The group essentially shuts down work on everything but the Christmas concert every October to "put this monstrous aircraft carrier together," O'Neill said.

Projects such as introducing a new album (like "Letters from the Labyrinth" of 2015) or putting a Trans-Siberian Orchestra story on Broadway simply have to wait. Producers, musicians and stagehands have to focus all of their attention on the details that fill the concert halls with color, music and story, O'Neill said

"The show we're doing this year, we couldn't do five years ago," he said. "The technology changes so fast. God bless Pink Floyd. They were doing the special effects like we're doing now in the ′90s."

It's an immense amount of work, rehearsal and reinvention.

"There's a reason Pink Floyd only toured once every five years," he said.

O'Neill said the winter tour show has much of the elements traditional music fans love but with new singers and new effects that will mesmerize the audience.

The band has a challenging tour schedule planned, with 61 stops and more than 100 shows from Nov. 17 to Dec. 31, according to the group's tour schedule at trans-siberian.com/tour.

O'Neill is dedicated to maintaining the reputation the Trans-Siberian Orchestra has for an affordable concert (tickets are between $42.50-$72.50 in Utah) and donating part of its ticket revenue to local charities.

He believes his shows — this year's is a return to "The Ghosts of Christmas Eve," which is based on a 1999 TV movie that made its way to the Trans-Siberian stage last year — celebrate the magic he's always found in Christmas.

The story follows a runaway teen who finds shelter in an old vaudeville theater on Christmas Eve. The building's caretaker finds her and calls in ghosts and spirits to help the girl change her life.

The rock opera includes songs that have become favorites demanded of the band each season, such as "Christmas Canon," "Music Box Blues," "This Christmas Day," and "Good King Joy," along with new pieces and enhancements to the favorites.

In 2015, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra played to more than 850,000 fans and grossed more than $41 million in 45 days, according to the group's press release.

If you go …

What: Trans-Siberian Orchestra Winter Tour 2016 concert

Where: Vivint Arena, 301 W. South Temple, Salt Lake City

When: Nov. 22, 4 and 8 p.m.

How much: $42.50-$72.50

Web: trans-siberian.com/tour

Sharon Haddock is a professional writer with more than 35 years' experience, 17 at the Deseret News. Her personal blog is at sharonhaddock.blogspot.com.

Email: haddoc@deseretnews.com