In late August, the New York Times identified a South Korean man as the star of a YouTube.com video. In it Lim Jeong-hyun (calling himself "Funtwo") played Pachelbel's Canon on his electric guitar. The axe wizard has mad skills, but what really sparked the media investigation is that the video link registered millions of hits. Not bad for a complete unknown wailing on a 300-year-old melody, huh? But this isn't just a one-time Internet phenomenon. People really dig it when the classics are coupled with modern instruments and sensibilities, and no one does that more effectively than the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.
TSO began as a project by Savatage's Jon Oliva and a pair of producer-composers, Paul O'Neill and Robert Kinkel, both of whom had worked with Savatage and other rock bands. The plan was to take the rock opera to its logical conclusion. Rock bands have always done covers, and symphony orchestras likewise have covered rock hits, but a deliberate, calculated blend never quite satisfied both genres at the same time ... until TSO. The first album, Christmas Eve and Other Stories (1996), though critically panned, garnered hordes of fans. In fact TSO has gained so many admirers during the past decade that last year alone it performed in front of almost 800,000 people, and the albums are becoming yuletide standards.
Sixty musicians and a full choir compose the studio version of the orchestra. Live, the group relies on about a dozen musicians, a rock band, and another dozen or so vocalists and narrators. Each person is carefully selected to perform a specific role based on his or her qualities and the demands of the piece. Some of the finest musicians in the world come together, and the results can be sublime. But because it's the holiday season, expect a little extra pyrotechnics in your stocking. Margaret Griffis
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