Trans-Siberian Orchestra brings 'Beethoven's Last Night' alive at Show Me Center stage

Friday, May 6, 2011
Trans-Siberian Orchestra founder Paul O'Neill

Beethoven gave birth to all other heavy metal rock stars.

Trans-Siberian Orchestra founder Paul O'Neill certainly thinks so. The group's current show, "Beethoven's Last Night," will be performed Thursday at the Show Me Center -- the orchestra's first appearance in Cape Girardeau since 2006.

"To look at Beethoven, he was the world's first heavy metal rock star," O'Neil said. "I mean, you hear the Fifth Symphony, you know, 'duh-duh-duh, dum;' if that theme was written by Aerosmith or Led Zeppelin, everybody would've believed it. He was writing heavy metal riffs ahead of his time."

The progressive rock group is known for its articulate classical sound blended with rock. Thursday's show will exhibit the same classical-meets-power chord sound people have come to love and O'Neill set out to create.

"I wanted to build on everybody that I worshipped," O'Neill said. "I wanted that marriage of classic and rock; Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Queen, Yes and give them the third dimension via the rock opera from The Who."

O'Neill said he thinks a lot of TSO's success is due to not only to the talented musicians and hard-working crew, but to fate as well.

"In a lot of ways, we were just unbelievably lucky," he said.

The organization will pay it forward Thursday. TSO announced this week that it would donate $1 per ticket sold to the United Way of Southeast Missouri and the United Way of Southern Illinois. Representatives from both chapters of the not-for-profit will receive the donations just before showtime Thursday.

Whether it's luck or hard work, TSO has become a top-selling group. The latest album, "Nightcastle," has been certified gold. Several songs from this album will be performed following the full "Beethoven's Last Night" performance at the Show-Me Center.

In "Beethoven's Last Night" the group layers its original rock anthems and poetic lyrics over the timeless lines of Beethoven's catalog. When combined with TSO's elaborate light and stage show, the music and visions of both Beethoven and O'Neill jump to life. Though this performance is considered scaled down from the Christmas tours, it still takes five trucks to handle the elaborate light show.

This tour is based around the 2000 album of the same name. The story takes the audience back to March 26, 1827, to witness Beethoven's dealings with Mephistopheles, a folk character based on the devil.

Mephistopheles has come to collect Beethoven's soul but secretly wishes to control all of his music. Trickery and twists of fate fill the show and tell the story of whether Beethoven manages to keep his soul -- and his life's work.

"I was always in awe of Beethoven," O'Neill said.

He said the fact that Beethoven, who couldn't hear his own works and suffered from lead and mercury poisoning, was able to create such timeless and beautiful works should inspire everyone.

"If Beethoven had just crawled into a corner and given up on life, I don't think a single person would have judged him harshly," O'Neill said. "But instead, he fights his way through all of this to write the Ninth Symphony, Moonlight Sonata, Fur Elise. Music that would bring joy, happiness, peace, contentment to billions of people, but that he himself would never hear."

TSO boasts a talented lineup of world class musicians. Broadway vet Rob Evan plays the role of Beethoven in the tour, and has recorded with the group as well. Al Pitrelli plays guitar, and boasts a resume that included work with Alice Cooper, Asia and Megadeth.

"TSO is the only band where you're going to see a classically trained keyboard player from Korea playing next to [Ukrainian-American pianist] Vitalij Kuprij," O'Neill said. "The only way you could get out of the Soviet Union before the wall fell was chess, ballet or piano playing. So at 12, [Kuprij] won the Soviet gold medal for piano playing. He's a monster on the keyboards."

In TSO tradition, the group brings in local musicians to perform with it. Rhett Hendrickson, a violinist in Cape Girardeau, has played with the group twice before and will play again Thursday.

"If curtains are 7:30, we're getting our music at 3," Hendrickson said. "TSO has a string wrangler, if you will; the violinist who plays as a touring member of the band. He or she is responsible for rehearsing us and getting us ready so that we know where all the stops and starts are."

Hendrickson said the biggest thing about playing with TSO is learning the stage show.

"The music is not that difficult," he said. "It's so heavily based on the classical repertoire anyway that most of us know it. The trick with TSO, if you've seen them, is to just dance. Stop when they stop, start when they start."

Hendrickson stressed it is a stage show, not a concert, which is O'Neill's vision for the group.

After the U.S. tour ends in May, the group will take a few days to rest, but then it is back to work in the studio finishing its next album "Romanov: What Kings Must Whisper." The album was originally supposed to come out in 1994, and is a rock opera based around the Bolshevik Revolution.

"At one point during the rock opera, I have Rasputin whisper to Czar Nicholas, 'Your majesty, when kings must whisper, they are no longer kings,' and then the whole rock opera just takes off," O'Neill said.

Tickets for Trans-Siberian Orchestra's "Beethoven's Last Night" show are $39.50, $49.50 and $59.50 and are available at the Show Me Center ticket office, online at or charge by phone at 651-5000.

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