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September 10, 2018

Alumni Stories: Paths Taken V

Paths Taken: A Personal Tour Part V

by Alumni Advisory Council Chair Louis Alexander (MM ’79)

Most people I discover and present here, surface through random searches in the Online Alumni Directory.

Featured in this installment of Paths Taken: A Personal Tour

  • Christian Sands (BM ’11, MM ’15)
  • Warren Mok (MM ’86)
  • Robert Bonfiglio (MM ’79)
  • Jeanine De Bique (BM ’06, MM ’08, PS ’09)
  • Kristjan Järvi (BM ’95)
  • Liz Ryan (’79)

In this on-going series of articles, we get glimpses into the rich pathways that our fellow alumni have taken since leaving the School.

Alumni Advisory Council Chair, series author


Music is its own kind of river, a continuously moving flow of interweaving sounds and silences. Its rhythms, harmonies, and cacophonies swirl around us, pulling us up into its current and taking us to places far and near, familiar and strange. Sometimes it flows from nothing more than a single instrument or a human voice, at others from a full orchestra. In this vast and swirling river of sound, everything is possible. Regardless of how well we know a piece, we are never fully in command of which eddies will sweep us up or the journey they will take us on. Music is our medium; it sustains us just as water sustains fish. We swim in it either alone or with others. Regardless of how many times we have entered its flow, every time we set foot into this river of sound we set off on a new adventure.

  • Louis

Photo credit: Visual Thought

 Christian Sands

Jazz pianist, bandleader, and Steinway artist

Caught up in music’s current since the age of three when he began playing piano is Christian Sands (BM ’11, MM ’15). By the age of five, he had begun composing pieces, and by the time his tenth birthday came around, he was on his way towards a career in music. His career began to blossom early in his high school years when he came under the mentorship of one of the greatest jazz educators in the country, Dr. Billy Taylor, whom he has described as his “musical grandfather.” Having gone on to evolve his own style, Christian brings together a rich mixture of elements that reach back into his heritage: Afro-Cuban, hip-hop, blues, classical, and jazz. At MSM, he studied classical piano part time with Philip Kawin. Without a doubt, music is woven into Christian’s own DNA. In talking about his recently released album, Reach, on the Mack Avenue label, Christian said, “I’m reaching from past recordings to bring in the future, which is really all about finding myself. It’s a chance to express my experience.” Express it he does, leaving no doubt why he has been a five-time Grammy nominee. By the way, three of those were with MSM ensembles. Christian not only takes music very seriously, he has a lot of fun with it as well. Check out the short video below, where he so eloquently gives us insights into some of the inspirations for his music and this album. You’ll also find information on his newest CD, Facing Dragons, to be released by Mack Avenue Records in September 2018. Learn more about Christian on his website:

The inspiration behind Christian's recently released album, "Reach"

Warren Mok

Opera singer and artistic director

For Warren Mok (MM ’86), the muse of opera was his inspiration. Even as a child he dreamed of becoming an opera singer. His career, of more than 30 years now, began at the Deutsche Oper Berlin where he became its first Asian singer. In the years since, Warren has built a repertoire of more than 60 roles in all the major operatic languages as well as in Chinese. These include Calaf (Turandot), Rodolfo (La Bohème), Cavaradossi (Tosca), Don José (Carmen), and Radames (Aida). He has performed with the Teatro dell’opera di Roma, Opera de Paris, Teatro Colón Buenos Aires, Netherlands National Opera, Maggio Musicale Firenze, Bolshoi Theater, Polish National Opera, Opera Australia in the Sydney Opera House, and many others. He has made his presence felt in the operatic world not only as a performer, but as a manager as well. Warren is the founder and Artistic Director of Opera Hong Kong; Artistic Director of the Macao International Music Festival; and an advisor for the Shanghai Opera House, Shanghai Symphony, and the China National Opera House. Over the years, he has received much recognition and praise for his tireless efforts on behalf of opera. Given his love of bel canto singing, it is no surprise that he has developed deep emotional ties with Italian opera and with the land that gave rise to it. Recently, he was awarded one of Italy’s highest honors, Officer of the Order of the Star of Italy, for his success in bringing Italian culture to China, which in turn has further strengthened relations between the two countries. Earlier, he was awarded the Knight of the Star of Solidarity of Italy, the Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters from France, and a Medal of Honor from the Hong Kong SAR Government. To get a sense of how impressive Opera Hong Kong is, check out its web page:

Warren performing with Opera Hong Kong in this clip from "Tosca"

Photo credit: Ron Zak

Robert Bonfiglio

Classical harmonica player and concert artist

The Los Angeles Times has called Robert Bonfiglio (MM ’79)“the Paganini of the harmonica.” He has shown the world what power there is in this little instrument, what expressive possibilities it has from a range of only about four octaves. At MSM, Robert majored in composition since there was no harmonica faculty. It was with the noted harmonica virtuoso the late Cham-ber Huang and MSM coach Andy Lolya that he honed his technique. Traveling the world with harmonica in hand, Robert is among a small group of musicians who have raised its status as a serious concert instrument. He has soloed with over 200 orchestras, including the Minnesota Orchestra, Pittsburgh Symphony, Boston Pops, New York Pops, Hong Kong Philharmonic, and the Buenos Aires Philharmonic at Teatro Colón, to name only a few.  It comes as no surprise that he is an avid supporter and promoter of contemporary music, having studied composition with Charles Wuorinen and Aaron Copland. Among his world premieres are the Henry Cowell Harmonica Concerto with Lucas Foss conducting, the Radamés Gnattali Harmonica Concerto in Brazil with Miguel Campos Neto conducting, and the Atlanta Ballet’s Concerto Armonico under the baton of Tara Simoncic. Outside of the concert hall, he has raised the public’s consciousness of the harmonica through appearances on shows such as the CBS Morning Show, CBS Sunday Morning, Live with Regis and Kathy Lee, Larry King, and Garrison Keillor. He has recorded on such labels as RCA, Arista, CBS, Sine Qua Non, High Harmony, QVC, and Naxos. Robert, along with his wife, flautist Clare Hoffman, founded the Grand Canyon Music Festival. Now in its 35th season, it not only brings top-notch performers to the Park but also engages in outreach programs to schools in rural areas with the Native America Composer Apprentice Project, which has won the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award. To read more about Robert, check out his web page:

Photo credit: Marco Borggreve

Jeanine De Bique

Trinidadian soprano

In less than a decade since leaving MSM, Jeanine De Bique (BM ’06, MM ’08, PS ’09) has become highly sought after as a soloist on both the operatic and concert stages for her rich and dramatic voice. A native of Trinidad and Tobago, she has performed widely throughout North America and Europe, and was a member of the Vienna State Opera. Last year alone, Jeanine gave highly acclaimed debuts at the Salzburg Festival as Annio in Peter Sellars’s new production of La clemenza di Tito, as well as at the BBC Proms and the Aldeburgh Festival. She has sung many classic roles, among them Musetta (La Bohème), Michäela (Carmen), Clara (Porgy and Bess), Barbarina (Le nozze di Figaro), and Kate Pinkerton (Madama Butterfly). Her more recent appearances include Sister Rose (Dead Man Walking) and Consuelo (I Was Looking at the Ceiling and Then I Saw the Sky). On the concert stage, Jeanine’s work is equally impressive, with a vibrant mixture of classical and contemporary composers, such as in her Berlin debut as the solo soprano in Arvo Pärt’s Como cierva sedienta, performed with the Konzerthausorchester under Iván Fischer. Beyond life on the stage, Jeanine is committed to engaging children through music and the sense of hope that it instills. While still a student she was named an Ambassador for Peace by the National Commission of UNESCO in Trinidad and Tobago, opening a door to her work today. She has given recitals in Barbados as fundraisers for children with autism, and she spearheaded an initiative to bring the World Doctors Orchestra to Barbados to perform  Mahler’s Fourth Symphony, the proceeds of which were given to the children’s ward of the Barbados General Hospital. To get a sense of the beauty and power of her voice, watch this clip of her singing at St. Peter’s Kirche in Salzburg. For more about Jeanine visit her web page:

Jeanine and Peter Sellars test out the acoustics of St. Peter's Kirche in Salzburg, Austria.

Photo credit: Peter Adamik

Kristjan Järvi

Conductor, producer, composer, and arranger

Through the hands of Kristjan Järvi (BM ’95), music flows freely and beyond boundaries. He is Founder, Conductor & Artistic Director of the Berlin based Baltic Sea Philharmonic and Co-Founder of Absolute Ensemble in New York, a group that fuses classical music, hip-hop, and jazz. Until August 2018, Kristjan was Music Director of MDR Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra. Through his vision for the Baltic Sea Philharmonic, musicians from Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Russia, and Sweden demonstrate the power an orchestra has to bring musicians from different backgrounds together, showing us what it means to create a space in which differences between people pale in comparison to our common humanity. A very special project this year of the Baltic Sea Philharmonic is Nordic Pulse, a series of audiovisual concert experiences celebrating Nordic culture and society and the independence of the Baltic States. Kristjan is a dreamer and doer whose passion is to show the world that a classical orchestra can effect much larger change. Among his awards are a Grammy nomination, the German Record Critics’ Award, a Swedish Grammy for his recording of Hilding Rosenberg’s opera Isle of Bliss, and the Deutsche Bank Prize for Outstanding Music Achievement for work with the Absolute Ensemble. He has recorded over 60 albums and has composed and recorded pieces for the TV series Babylon Berlin. Kristjan’s influence is also felt outside of music. An official member of the Estonian Olympic Committee, he is the first person to serve on the committee who is not an athlete or a government official. Not surprisingly, one of his projects is Sound Estonia, which promotes the importance of a healthy mind and body. For a better sense of the full range of Kristjan’s activities, visit his web page, ( and for more about the Nordic Pulse project, please visit its site:

Liz Ryan

Speaker, writer, and soprano; CEO and founder of Human Workplace

Indeed, music is an adventure that often leads us to unexpected places, and the journey of Liz Ryan (’79) is inspiring. An opera singer by training, Liz is a former Fortune 500 Human Relations Senior Vice President. She also was Founder and CEO of WorldWIT, the world’s largest online community for professional women. While working her corporate gig, she began a writing career with articles about workplace issues for the Chicago Sun-Times and during this time began to see just how operatic the work environment really is. Today, Liz is the Founder and CEO of Human Workplace, a publishing and consulting firm attempting “to humanize work.” Author of Reinvention Roadmap: Break the Rules to Get the Job You Want and Career You Deserve, Liz ranks among the top LinkedIn Influencers. She is a regular contributor to as well as to many other publications.  Seeing Liz in action shows just how powerful her musical training is. To get a sense of this, watch the clip below. To learn more about her, visit her site:

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