The Musicians 2019

COLIN BEESON received his early musical education and training in London and at the University of Reading. He moved to Manchester in 1975 in order to take up a position as lecturer at the Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM) from where he recently retired from his role as its Deputy Principal to embark on a freelance career that has included conducting, examining and education consultancy across the UK, in Eastern Europe, Singapore, China, Malaysia and Hong Kong.

As a conductor, Colin has worked with numerous choirs and choral groups, including a number of television appearances.  As an academic, one of his main interests – and his passion – is for 19th century Italian opera, especially the operas of Verdi.  This led him to accept an invitation to join Wilmslow Opera to conduct Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra, after which he remained with the company for several years as its Principal Conductor and Music Director, conducting operas including A Masked Ball, Cavalleria Rusticana, Pagliacci, and Norma.  After retiring from the RNCM Colin found time once again to work in opera and spent seven years as Music Director of Preston Opera with whom he performed Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld, The Tales of Hoffmann and La belle Hélène, as well as Verdi’s A Masked Ball, Aida, La Traviata, and Nabucco as well as Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci and Mozart’s Magic Flute

Colin has been involved as Music Director of the St Gauderic Festival since 2012 and is delighted to return to France to work with the Festival again this year.


Alec Crowe Organist

Alexander was born and grew up in Edinburgh. In 1966 he went to Cambridge University as Organ Scholar of Sidney Sussex College. After graduating, he remained at Cambridge for a further three years as a research student, spending part of his time attached to the University of Helsinki on a Finnish Ministry of Education Scholarship, undertaking research into the early unpublished works of Sibelius. In 1973 he took up a position as répétiteur at the Lower Saxony State Theatre in Hannover, in what was then West Germany. He was appointed Principal Stage Band Conductor there in 1976 and Head of Music Staff in 1977.

On returning to the UK in 1981, Alexander was appointed Senior Tutor, Opera Music Staff, at the Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM) in Manchester. He became Head of Opera Music Staff in April 1992. Since 1998 he has also been the director of the Easter Baroque Courses run by the Yorke Trust in North Norfolk.

From 2001 until 2010 Alexander was Head of the School of Vocal and Opera Studies at the RNCM; he was made an Honorary Fellow there in 2001. He remains on the staff there as a visiting répétiteur, and now holds a post in the Opera Faculty at the Royal Academy of Music. His freelance career continues as a coach, accompanist and organist.

Anna Chiu Hoi Ching   accompanist

Anna Chiu graduated with a Master of Performance in Piano Accompaniment from the Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester. She studied under the tutelage of David Jones and has participated in masterclasses with Malcolm Martineau, John Mark Ainsley, James Baillieu, Julius Drake, Helen Cha and Amy Size.

After being selected as one of the Leeds Lieder Young Artists 2018 she performed at the Breakfast Concerts at Leeds College of Music. At the RNCM, she won the Piano Prize in the 2018 Chris Petty English Song Competition and performed in the Claude Debussy Mélodies Workshop as part of the RNCM Debussy Centenary Conference and a Melofonetica Workshop.

Anna has performed in recitals at St Ann’s Church, Manchester, and as a member of RNCM Songsters she performed in the 2018 Day of Song and the 2017 Open Day.

In 2018, Anna was the rehearsal pianist for Opera Hong Kong Children Chorus in their production of The Magic Flute. She worked with Hong Kong Youth Choir in preparation for their performance of J S Bach Motets. She played for Look at the World with John Rutter in a concert, singing day and conducting masterclass lead by John Rutter. With the RNCM Chamber Choir, Anna has worked on preparing their performance of JS Bach’s St John’s Passion in 2017.

As a harpsichordist, Anna won the Brodsky Cross-School Prize with the Lucrezia Trio in 2017. She also played chamber organ with the RNCM Baroque Soloists.

Anna is looking forward to working with Warrington Musical Society as their rehearsal pianist starting from September 2019.

Anna Chiu Hoi Ching appears by kind permission of the RNCM.

Rachel Speirs   soprano

Scottish Soprano Rachel Speirs is currently in her first year of a Master of Music degree under the tutelage of Sarah Rhodes and Eiddwen Harrhy and is generously supported by The Cross Trust, Headley Trust, Hargreaves and Ball Trust, and the Scottish International Educational Trust. In June this year Rachel was delighted to win the prestigious Joyce and Michael Kennedy Award for the Singing of Strauss at the RNCM.

Rachel’s recent operatic roles include Aminta Il re pastore, The Voice of a Bird The Pilgrim’s Progress, Papagena and cover Pamina Die Zauberflöte, Suor Osmina Suor Angelica, Rose Lakmé, Mustardseed A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Mary Hildebrand Street Scene. On the oratorio and concert platform she has sung as soprano soloist in Handel’s Messiah, Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, and Vivaldi’s Gloria, as well as premiering several new works such as John Joubert’s final work Remember with recorderist John Turner and the Villiers String Quartet. In April, Rachel was honoured to perform as soprano soloist in a special celebration concert for the late founding principal of the RNCM Sir John Manduell alongside many of his contemporaries and fellow composers.

Rachel Speirs appears by kind permission of the RNCM.

Flora Birkbeck   mezzo – soprano

Flora Birkbeck has recently obtained her Bachelors of Music with First Class Honours from the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, where she studied under the renowned soprano Mary Plazas. She plans to begin her Masters of Music at the RNCM in 2020. Recent operatic engagements with the RNCM include Woodcutter’s boy in Vaughan Williams’ The Pilgrim’s Progress, Nun in Puccini’s Suor Angelica , Tisbe in Rossini’s La Cenerentola scenes, Annio in Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito scenes, Chorus in Offenbach’s La Vie Parisienne and Handel’s Theodora and Scenes Chorus in Mozart’s Ascanio in Alba and Idomeneo. Recordings include In The Summers Long Ago, Sullivan Songs with David Owen Norris and as part of the Chorus in Victorian Opera North West’s recording of Alfred Cellier’s Dorothy. Flora’s contemporary opera roles include creating the role of Romy for Eldad Diamant’s chamber opera MRDS in 2017 and singing several principal roles in the premieres of 5 contemporary operas with MCYO. Flora created Offstage Opera in 2018, an immersive opera ensemble with whom she performs regularly.

Flora Birkbeck appears by kind permission of the RNCM.

Gabriel Seawright  tenor

Welsh – Irish Tenor, Gabriel Seawright, is an opera singer whose repertoire covers a diverse range of music. He is currently studying under Paul Nilon at the Royal Northern College of Music. Gabriel has worked with Longborough Festival Opera for four seasons, performing Saturino in La Calisto, First Armed Man in Die Zauberflote, Basilio (Cover) in Le Nozze Di Figaro, and chorus in La Traviata.

Other highlights include Berlioz’ Grande Messe de Morts and Britten’s Peter Grimes with the Bergen Philharmonic, and Soloist in Mozart’s Requiem for the BMS singers. For RNCM, he has sung Messenger in Handel’s Theodora, Chorus in Weill’s Street Scene, Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte, and Offenbach’s La Vie Parisienne, as well as excerpts from Verdi’s Falstaff, Mozart’s Le Nozze Di Figaro and Gilbert and Sullivan’s Ruddigore. He also took part in Vaughan William’s Sea Symphony at the BBC Proms, and is featured on the Gabrieli Consort’s recording of Britten’s War Requiem. This season, he will sing Le Premiere Commissaire in Poulenc’s Dialogue des Carmelites at the RNCM.

Gabriel also sings as a founding member of The Apex Singers, an accapella group which explores repertoire ranging from folk and art songs, to popular music, under composer and arranger Oliver Lambert. Gabriel is also a keen recitalist, and is currently working on future recitals of Wolf, Strauss, and other repertoire with pianist Tomek Pieczora.

Gabriel Seawright appears by kind permission of the RNCM.

John Ieuan Jones  baritone

Originally from the Welsh coastal town of Rhos-on-Sea, John Ieuan Jones recently graduated from the masters course at the Royal Northern College of Music with distinction. Having initially been trained by Sian Wyn Gibson, he continues his studies with Matthew Best. His studies were generously supported by the D’Oyly Carte Trust, George Henry Peters Scholarship, the Drapers’ Company and the Gwilym Gwalchmai Jones Award. During his time at the college, his roles included Harry Easter in Street Scene, Pandolfe in Cendrillon, Lord Ellington in La vie Parisienne and Watchful in The Pilgrim’s Progress. Whilst at college, he worked at Buxton Festival Opera and Longborough Festival Opera, and since graduating has sung the title role in Krása’s Brundibar for Welsh National Opera and a Flemish Deputy in Don Carlo for Grange Park Opera.

Ieuan is a busy and in demand concert singer having performed throughout the UK, in Europe and the USA. Recent highlights have included an Opera Gala at the Bridgewater Hall, making his solo debut at the Royal Albert Hall at the London Welsh Festival of Male Choirs, guest soloist at the North America Festival of Wales in Washington DC and last year shared the stage with Sir Bryn Terfel at the Millennium Centre in the opening concert of the National Eisteddfod of Wales.

His many awards and scholarships including the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation Scholarship, the Help Musicians UK Sybil Tutton Award, the Manchester Welsh Society Award, the RNCM James Martin Oncken Song Prize, Second Prize in the Elizabeth Harwood Memorial Prize at the RNCM and the Dunraven Singer of the Year competition. Ieuan has also had countless successes at National and International Eisteddfodau in Wales, having won the prestigious Osborne Roberts Memorial Prize, the Wilbert Lloyd Roberts Memorial Scholarship, and this year winning the major prize at the National Eisteddfod, the W Towyn Roberts Memorial Scholarship.

He is a familiar face on Welsh television channel S4C, frequently appearing and performing on programmes such as ‘Noson Lawen’ and ‘Heno’ and his recordings include Harry Sherwood in Cellier’s Dorothy with Victorian Opera conducted by Richard Bonynge, now available on Naxos CD. Ieuan is also an accomplished harpist, having performed for the Prime Minister and members of the Royal family.

His future engagements include Masetto in Don Giovanni with The Merry Opera Company, Count Almaviva in an adaption of The Marriage of Figaro for Leo&Hyde, baritone soloist for Vaughan Williams Fantasia on Christmas Carols and Finzi’s In Terra Pax in Bangor Cathedral and in April will fly to Canada to perform in the Ontario Welsh Festival. Ieuan is very excited to be performing at the St Gauderic Festival this year.