‘Losing him was horribly tragic’: Al Pitrelli keeps Paul O’Neill and Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s spirit alive

Trans-Siberian Orchestra celebrates “The Ghost of Christmas Eve” at the Footprint Center on Sunday, December 4. (Bob Carey/Submitted)

By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski

Al Pitrelli lives for the Trans-Siberian Orchestra tours. 

The music director and lead guitarist will bring an updated presentation of TSO’s “The Ghost of Christmas Eve – the Best of TSO & More” to the Footprint Center in Phoenix on Sunday, December 4. 

“I’ve been doing the same thing literally my entire life,” Pitrelli says. 

“Every year I say it gets bigger and crazier and different. Am I lying? We have songs that we’ve never played live before. ‘The Ghost of Christmas Eve’ by Paul O’Neill, we haven’t presented this in five or six years.”

TSO’s founder O’Neill died from an unexpected reaction to prescription medication in 2017 at age 61.

The rock opera features “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24,” “O’ Come All Ye Faithful,” “Good King Joy,” “Christmas Canon,” “Music Box Blues,” “Promises to Keep” and “This Christmas Day.”

The 2022 tour will also boast a second set containing more of TSO’s greatest hits, including “Wizards In Winter” and “A Mad Russian’s Christmas.”

After its first year off the road in more than two decades, TSO returned to touring in 2021 with a 25th anniversary celebration of “Christmas Eve and Other Stories.”

Keeping with the vision of O’Neill and his widow, Desi, TSO will give at least $1 from every ticket sold to charity. To date, approximately $18 million has been donated by the group. 

“It’s the most incredible feeling ever to know so many folks have made us part of their holiday tradition,” Pitrelli added.

“In ’95, ’96, when we started recording these works, I didn’t understand this was something very special,” he says. 

“It’s something, artistically, that’s never been done. TSO is synonymous with family’s holiday celebration, and it’s an incredible responsibility and honor to fulfill that. Paul O’Neill’s hope was that the music would outlive all of us and continue in perpetuity.” 

When O’Neill died, he left behind a wealth of unfinished material. Through mourning, Pitrelli has worked on the songs. 

“His family is adamant about doing that,” Pitrelli says. “They want it to continue. It’s such a great amount of work. It’s taken a little while to get back into it. Losing him was horribly tragic for me. He was my best friend, my boss, my big brother. It took a minute to get the wind back in the sails. I will do my best to carry on that sentiment.” 

“The Ghost of Christmas Eve – the Best of TSO & More”

WHEN: 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Sunday, December 4

WHERE: Footprint Center, 201 E. Jefferson Street, Phoenix

COST: Tickets start at $59.50

INFO: footprintcenter.com, trans-siberian.com