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Review: Trans-Siberian Orchestra channels frenzy of Beethoven's life

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The crowd of 2600 patrons was pretty revved up for "Beethoven's Last Night," presented by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra at the Charleston Civic Center on Tuesday night. Not only did fans hear a rock opera based mostly on facts about the life of Ludwig van Beethoven, during the Beethoven portion of the show, much of the musical material was based on themes written by Ludwig himself.

As the concert opened, stars dotted the backdrop and a moon appeared on one of three giant video screens; very fitting that Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" would be the accompaniment, played by keyboardist Vitalij Kuprij. Kuprij spent most of the night on stage left with a spotlight silhouetting unkempt hair and a profile that seemed to channel Ludwig himself.

For many who had attended the holiday show in the past, this may have been a wild departure, at least as far as the plot was concerned.

Narrator Bryan Hicks spun a fanciful tale of Beethoven bargaining for his soul with the devil. The devil is relentless in his efforts to trade Beethoven's soul for his music -- wiping it from the memory of all the world. Fate and Fate's son Twist get into the game and help give the devil what he deserves.

The show was a musical frenzy for the ears, as the light, laser, and video image show was a feast for the eyes, pushing the limits as only a rock and heavy metal opera is wont to do. Just as I thought we were being thrown off the precipice, the band provided a soft ballad featuring the phrase "Spend the Night with Me" sung by a one of the female vocalists portraying Beethoven's love interest, the Princess of Hapsburg, Theresa.

Again to the edge of sight and sound with guitars blazing, keyboards pounded, and Roddy Chong on rock violin with support provided by local musicians on violin, viola and cello. Fire shot up behind the band and all around the drum set. This pyrotechnic scenes were balanced a few tunes later with the familiar solo piano work "Fur Elise" by Kuprij.

"The Flight of the Bumblebee" got the crowd on their feet for the first time. Towards the end of the plot, the most recognizable of themes from both Beethoven's Fifth and Ninth Symphony were the basis of the band's musical offering. I especially enjoyed "This is Who You Are" sung by Rob Evan. By the time the narrator got to the devil's final offer-Beethoven's freshly written but as of yet, unperformed Tenth Symphony-in exchange for the soul of a homeless child, I was more than ready for the story to end. After all, the devil can only go so far...

Once the Beethoven plot had been wrapped up, the band was introduced, and they broke into a few concert songs. Several times the vocals were covered up by the instrumentalists, making the words hard to understand. Andrew Ross's songs at the end were the highlight of the post-plot concert.

As part of the Trans-Siberian mission to give back to the communities in which they perform, the group presented Mountain Mission with $1 from each ticket sold, netting the local charity $2616 from ticket sales alone. An additional $2500 was pledged by the TSO organization.


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