American Public Media's choral maestro Tesfa Wondemagegnehu is in Los Angeles to guest-conduct the Los Angeles Master Chorale's annual High School Choir Festival, which brought more than 900 high school aged singers for rehearsals this past weekend, culminating in a concert Friday afternoon at Disney Hall.
After hearing the painful news on Thursday that Prince had died, Tesfa and Grant Gershon, the LAMC's conductor and artistic director, decided to pay tribute to Prince with a version of "Purple Rain," freshly arranged by Gershon, which also made use of the famed 2004 Rosales, Glatter-Götz pipe organ at Walt Disney Concert Hall. The performance brought the house down and was carried live on CNN.
"When we first had the idea, we didn't want to force it," Tesfa says. "Prince's heyday never really dimmed, but after all, these kids weren't even born in the '70s and '80s when he first broke out. So I asked them, 'How many of you know who Prince is?' Nearly 100 percent of them raised their hands. Then I asked, 'How many of you listen to his music?' The kids went crazy. I found it amazing that 900 L.A. area high school kids know Prince so well.
"So we went ahead with it," Tesfa continues. "Grant is a hugely gifted artist on all fronts, and he came up with a stunning arrangement this morning. In the concert, I sang the opening few lines and told the kids and audience to join me 'whenever your heart tells you to sing.' When we got to the chorus, everyone was singing. When we sang the chorus a second time, the entire hall was drenched in purple and over a thousand people were singing in gorgeous harmony. The tribute turned out to be absolutely electrifying and unifying.
"My adopted home state Minnesota and the world are grieving a major loss right now," Tesfa says. "Prince gave us so much. He transformed music, performance, style, boundaries -- so much. What a loss. We wanted to give the world a big purple hug."
To listen to the performance, use the audio player above. You can also watch the video below.