The Trans-Siberian Orchestra (TSO) is one of the biggest live rock draws in the U.S. Its performances are a mélange of rock, classical music, theater, and poetry with dazzling lasers, humongous pyrotechnics, and a stage that transforms itself before your eyes.
Al Pitrelli, its musical director, lives right here in the little town of Milford. He was previously Alice Cooper’s musical director and has been with TSO for 19 of its 20 years. Pitrelli is an incredible guitarist and a giant of a performer.
Like many others before him, Pitrelli came to Milford for a weekend visit and stayed. “Milford is a great little town,” he said. “When you go through it, it doesn’t look like there’s anything wrong with the world. In my heart, I’m a musician, but I’m also part of this community. I go to parent-teacher meetings for my kids and I interact with people in the community.” He sometimes goes down to the Waterwheel Café to jam with Scott Weiss, his buddy of nearly 30 years.
Pitrelli is real, warm, and open, despite his huge stature as a musician. He’s a committed family man. Because TSO’s holiday concerts are COVID-cancelled, he is looking forwarding to being home at Christmas this year with his wife, Nicole Pitrelli, and their two young daughters. Nicole and Al are very much part of the community. She’s a real estate agent for Keller-Williams. Pitrelli also has three boys from his first marriage to Jane Mangini, an amazing pianist who performs in TSO concerts. Jane lives in Milford as well, and has performed in a few concerts at the Columns Museum.
Paul O’Neill was TSO’s founder, composer, lyricist, and producer. He was the group’s North Star. “Paul wanted to put on the biggest rock and roll show on earth, and that’s what we’ve been doing,” Pitrelli said. O’Neill died in 2017 but left enough original music for the group to continue many years into the future.
TSO has performed before more than 16 million people, selling more than half-billion dollars’ worth of tickets. A Billboard chart showing the total gross and total attendees just for 2019 lists TSO as number 4 out of 15 artists/groups, just under Elton John, Celine Dion, and U2, with $66,827,877 and 1,016,353 total attendees at 109 shows – far greater than any of the others on the list. Pitrelli says they contribute $1 per ticket to the local charity selected by each performance venue.
TSO is most famous for its holiday concerts, which usually start in November and continue sometimes into January. They often perform two shows a day, and it’s intense.
One of their most famous Christmas albums is “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo (12/24),” which has various refrains of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” “That album became the centerpiece for “Christmas Eve and Other Stories” which sold about 4 million copies so far and is one of the top 10 Christmas recordings of all time,” Pitrelli said.
TSO has 20 musicians on stage at any one time and 100 crew members working beneath the stage. In 1999, they had one 24-foot box truck and now need 20 tractor trailers to tour.
TSO is planning to start touring again in early 2021 with some new material and non-Christmas albums, such as the rock opera “Beethoven’s Last Night,” which deftly incorporates strands of Beethoven’s classical music.
Pitrelli feels it is important to give back to the community. “I have had this amazing 35-year career just by playing guitar, and I want to give back to the art form that has been so good to me,” he said. To that end, he is teaching guitar at Waterwheel Guitars in Milford, run by friends Scott Weiss and Steve McVick and John Bendy. It’s at 150 Water Street, above the Waterwheel Café. (Lessons are $75 an hour. Call 570-296-4444.)
Pitrelli comes from a family of educators, and his approach to teaching is unique and generous. He currently gives private lessons on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but the response has been so overwhelming, he may add an night.
His students are young and old, doctors and other professionals, and even some Wall Street types. Pitrelli says it’s important to leave this year learning something and be able to say, “I did something for good in 2020.” Especially in this particular time of isolation, he says, “It’s better to have an instrument on your lap, than a laptop!”
“Milford is a great little town. When you go through it, it doesn’t look like there’s anything wrong with the world.” —Al Pitrelli