A collaborative album between the BYU Chamber Orchestra and Broadway superstar Lea Salonga, “The Story of My Life: Lea Salonga Live from Manila,” recently received the 2020 BroadwayWorld Album Award for Best New EP/Solo Release.
For a university orchestra to win an award like this is “unheard of,” said BYU professor Kory Katseanes, who conducted the performance. It was recorded with a live audience for the album at the end of the orchestra’s three-week tour of the Philippines in 2017.
BroadwayWorld is the predominant social media organization of Broadway. Salonga and the BYU Chamber Orchestra beat out illustrious competition for the Best Solo Release award, with runners-up including Ben Platt of “Dear Evan Hansen,” Leslie Odom Jr. of “Hamilton” and star Kristin Chenoweth.
“This isn’t a college award,” Katseanes noted. “It’s an award for professionally produced albums on Broadway. It’s unbelievable—but not undeserved—that BYU won.”
Produced by BYU Records, the album features standout songs from Salonga’s career, including pieces from “Mulan,” “Miss Saigon” and “Les Misérables,” as well as personal favorites of Salonga’s, such as music from “West Side Story” and “Wicked.”
A native of Manila, Salonga—the singing voice for Disney’s animated characters Mulan and Jasmine—is enormously popular in the Philippines. Despite a torrential rainstorm on the evening of the performance, the concert hall was packed with fans and even dignitaries, including a prominent Catholic cardinal.
The achievement is especially remarkable because it was a one-take album, Katseanes explained, with “exceptional” sound captured by BYU audio engineer Jeff Carter using just the equipment he could fit into one suitcase.
“This wasn’t done in a sound studio where you go over and over again until you get it,” Katseanes said. “This was live. But you listen to these musicians and it’s indistinguishable from the most skilled, professional orchestra you could find.”
Katseanes believes the album’s success is “the product of so many support systems.” These include not only Salonga and talented BYU students but also the faculty in the School of Music who teach the students, the BYU Performing Arts Management touring program and the donors who made the collaboration possible.