Derek Wieland is on the phone from Trans-Siberian Orchestra rehearsals, speaking passionately about how society is at a point where TSO’s hopeful holiday musical message is needed more than ever.
Wieland is TSO’s music director and will be playing keyboards when the orchestral-rock ensemble makes its annual Christmastime appearance at U.S. Bank Arena for two shows on Friday.
It’s up to Wieland and others to spread the word about TSO these days, after the band’s founder and visionary, Paul O’Neill, died last year.
Wieland speaks passionately about TSO, but nobody spoke about any subject as passionately as O’Neill spoke about TSO. He was the best and worst interview subject: Best because he didn’t wait for the question; he just started talking and wouldn’t stop. Worst because it was impossible to condense it all into the template of a concert-preview story.
“That energy and passion and emotion is more important than ever,” Wieland says. “The way that Paul could make you feel when you’re talking to him or when you’re playing or hearing the stories and the music that he did, that’s what counts. It’s amazing.”
O’Neill built TSO – whose best-known songs include the amped-up Yuletide-rock instrumentals “Wizards in Winter” and “Carol of the Bells” – into an operation of two concurrent touring units. A typical day in the heart of the December touring season consists of four performances: two east coast shows by one of the TSO bands and two west coast shows on the other. TSO is maintaining that workload without O’Neill.
The set from one of Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s 2018 tour performances. (Photo: Jason Douglas McEachern/Provided)
“We’ve had a hard couple of years these past two years,” Wieland says. “And we’re transitioning, and we’re growing, and we’re really grateful that we’re doing it. We lost Paul, the creator, the founder and the producer of the stories that we’re performing and the meaning behind them and the emotion behind them. Our bass player (David Zablidowsky died last year) as well. It’s not been easy. We want to keep performing, and we want to keep recording and writing. I think that Paul wanted the Trans-Siberian Orchestra to be a little bit more transcendent and bigger than bands sometimes are. He hopefully has the right people doing the right things, so we’re going to be able to do that.”
Bigger is the TSO keyword. O’Neill always wanted next year’s tour to surpass the previous one in terms of production elements and execution. Wieland estimates that it will take about 26 trucks, 18 buses and 100 crew members to put on his half of the tour. That’s in addition to the 20 singers and band members performing the show each night.
The sound will be bigger, too, Wieland promises.
“We have some new material in the show, and there’s some heavy stuff. There is some metal,” he laughs. “I’m hoping people really get into it and love it. It turns into a real rock show this time. We have the very, very delicate acoustic numbers that we do, and we have the story and the visuals that surround the narration.
“There’s a kind of genuine thing about the performance and a genuine thing about the meaning of the story and the emotion and with the people that we have together, that is something that we really need right now,” he says. “That is something people are looking for. I think the audience feels that connection, and I think it’s something that’s more important than ever, in a time when we have a lot of cynicism.”
If you go
What: Trans-Siberian Orchestra
When: 4 and 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 14
Where: U.S. Bank Arena, 100 Broadway, Downtown; 513-421-4111
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