Trans-Siberian Orchestra Shares Plans for Future After Founder Paul O'Neill's Death

Paul Bergen/Redferns
Al Pitrelli photographed at Grand Hotel on Feb. 12, 2011 in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

"I don't want to go forward without Paul, I just don't have a choice in the matter," says TSO's music director.

Trans-Siberian Orchestra has adopted the U.S. Marine Corps strategy of Adapt, Overcome and Improvise in the wake of founder and mastermind Paul O'Neill's death in April. 

The troupe has announced its annual, two-company holiday tour kicking off Nov. 16, with dates booked through Dec. 30. And there was never a thought of doing anything else according to longtime music director Al Pitrelli. 

"Paul always said he wanted this to live long past all of us," Pitrelli tells Billboard. "Long after we leave the planet he wanted the next several generations to run it and carry on, let the art live forever. That was always our definition of heaven, how people remember you 100 years down the road. If they're still talking about us positively then we did our jobs.

"We want the Orchestra to live forever. We know we're not going to live forever. So it was never a question of 'Will we carry on?' The big question was, 'OK, HOW will we carry on?'"

In doing that, the surviving braintrust of TSO adopted a slogan of its own. "In a post-Paul world what was once a monarchy is now a democracy, and the democracy is based on one ideal -- 'What would Paul do?'" Pitrelli explains. "We always keep that at the front of every sentence -- 'OK, what would Paul do here? How would he perceive this? What would he think?' We've made some pretty big decisions of late, and that was what we would ask each other and everybody else involved. What I'm proud of most right now is that everybody in the hierarchy of the organization has put their egos and their personal thoughts aside to do that." 

TSO operations may be a little quieter, however. "I miss the arguing," Pitrelli says. "We used to love to argue to death with Paul; We would go head to head with him for days about things, and at the end of the day we would throw our hands up and go, 'He's right, again!' We make decisions a little quicker now because we keep that mantra and that focus to keep what Paul started going and not vary from the theme."

TSO fans can expect the usual light-and-sound spectacle that O'Neill cherished, along with affordable pricing for everything from tickets to merchandise. And with the tour announced, Pitrelli and the rest of the TSO team are starting to look at other future projects; Pitrelli estimates there are up to five in motion and in some degree of completion. Before his death O'Neill spoke about Romanov: When Kings Must Whisper, about the 1917 Russian Revolution and The Pat of the Fairytale Moon, among others. He also hoped to create stage productions for non-holiday TSO albums such as Night Castle and Letters From The Labyrinth, and to adapt at least one of the works into a Broadway musical. 

"Nobody has given that too much thought because it was first dealing with, 'Omigod, what's happened to our world?!'" Pitrelli explains. "I think the conversations about the other (projects) are just starting to happen now that we've booked the dates and everybody exhaled and went, 'Oh, great, they're coming around again.' It's a little different going into the production facility in Tampa without him being there. The walls are there, the staff is still there, the music is still on the computer. But it's different now. I don't want to go forward without Paul, I just don't have a choice in the matter, so we will go forward."