The Loudest Christmas Carols You’ll Ever Hear
The Trans-Siberian Orchestra is coming to town and they want to blow your head off.
“O’ Come All Ye Faithful” will blare through the Bradley Center this weekend, accompanied by bursting fireballs, fogged laser beams and screaming guitars. Yep, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra returns to Milwaukee as part of its annual worldwide Christmas tour.
The bombastic performance — 20 years in the making — has become a beloved tradition during the holiday season. Al Pitrelli, the TSO’s lead guitarist and music director, says this year’s concert will be “10 times bigger than last year,” as part of the band’s efforts to continuously outdo itself.
“You want to have a certain amount of familiarity, that’s true,” Pitrelli says. “But at the same time, you want to get your head blown off.”
The concert will include the iconic elements of a Trans-Siberian show: the tuxedo tailcoats, the flying hair, the string orchestra and the electric violins. However, Pitrelli — formerly of Alice Cooper, Megadeath and many other bands — says the TSO has a whole new vibe this year, and will add 3-D video effects and, of course, more pyro.
This is the last year it will perform its rock opera, “The Lost Christmas Eve,” which concludes the band’s Christmas album trilogy. The trilogy also includes the 1996 album “Christmas Eve and Other Stories” and the 1998 album “The Christmas Attic.” On top of the music from “The Lost Christmas Eve,” the concert will feature other greatest hits from the TSO, such as the popular “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24,” which adds a heavy metal edge to “Carol of the Bells.”
The Milwaukee performance is part of a tour that includes about 70 concerts across the globe in November and December.
“I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” Pitrelli says when asked about the tour’s length. “I live for this. I’m not tired. I’ll never be tired.”
That certainly should come as a relief to the fan base, which is only growing in number. The Trans-Siberian Orchestra sold over 5 million concert tickets in the last 10 years, placing it as the Billboard’s 25th top touring band of the last decade. On top of its tours, TSO sold over 10 million copies of its five albums, with all but one platinum certified.
Why such popularity? Pitrelli says the timing was right for its sound. The band’s prolific founder and producer, Paul O’Neill, envisioned something new for its audience in the early ‘90s: a fusion between the world’s most beautiful classical pieces and the rough and raw power of hard rock.
“All of a sudden there was this track with my guitar and the orchestra playing, and it gripped people by their throats and shook them to the core,” he says. “Once you got somebody’s attention, you don’t want to let them go.”
Pitrelli says today’s music is far more segregated than it used to be, as people have more freedom to choose the music they want to hear. The TSO, however, mixes classical and rock. “It reintroduces the classical genre to a new generation of students that normally wouldn’t listen to it.”
The Bradley Center will be packed Sunday for two Trans-Siberian concerts: a 3 p.m. matinee and an evening concert at 7 p.m. Following the second performance, Pitrelli and other band members will take the time to talk with audience members, which he says is very important to him.
“It’s like going to somebody’s house for dinner and leaving without saying goodbye,” he says, laughing. “My mother would beat the snot out of me if I ever did that … We owe everything to the community that embraced us.”
Other concerts this week:
Christmas in the Basilica by Bel Canto Chorus
During the week, Vaughn Ausman serves as the lab coordinator for Marquette University’s chemistry department. One night of the week, however, he and his wife dedicate to the Bel Canto Chorus.
Ausman, a bass singer in the chorus, says Bel Canto also has two other chemistry teachers, a few lawyers, the director of Independence First, and many other professions included in the group.
“Oh, and one bass singer is a music major — we do have some of those,” Vaughn notes, smiling.
Rick Hynson, music director for the Bel Canto, says this diversity of professions is part of the beauty of not just the Bel Canto, but choruses in general.
“A group like this is made of people all dedicated to creating beauty,” Hynson says. “There’s a commitment to the greater good that comes out of the symbiotic relationships in the chorus.”
Hynson will lead Ausman and his colleagues in the Bel Canto’s Christmas concert at the Basilica of St. Josaphat. The concert will feature a new work written by Hynson titled “The Christmas Story.” It will also include holiday carols, including the Bel Canto’s arrangement of “Silent Night.”
The concert is on Saturday at 3 p.m. and Sunday at 3 and 6:30 p.m. Tickets, starting at $30 ($27 for students and seniors), are available at its website.
Calmus Christmas A Capella
The South Milwaukee Performing Arts Center will host the rich choral sounds of Calmus, the a capella group from Leipzig, Germany.
The award-winning quintet, which has been performing for more than a decade, will feature a blend of classical and contemporary Christmas music at the concert.
The concert begins Thursday at 7:30 p.m. Tickets range from $25-39, with discounts for students and seniors and can be purchased at the SMPAC’s website.
The Milwaukee Children’s Choir concerts
The Milwaukee Children’s Choir have a busy, Christmas-drenched weekend ahead, as the group is putting on two different concerts.
Dec. 14 they will be at the Cathedral Church of All Saints for their concert, “An Evening of Reading and Carols,” which will begin at 7 p.m. On Dec. 15 they will be at the Milwaukee Area Technical College for their concert, “Trumpets Sound & Voices Raise!” which will begin at 4:30 p.m.
Tickets are $15, with discounts for students and seniors. To order, call (414) 221-7040.