The Brighton Festival Chorus is one of the jewels in the city's musical crown and this year it gets to sing at the three main concerts, including the opening and closing performances.

Indeed, the concert on May 26 brings the Chorus back full circle to its beginning.

It was formed in 1968, supposedly for a one-off recital of William Walton's Belshazzar's Feast.

That performance was a great success and the Chorus remained performing at every Festival since. Now it performs regularly in Sussex, often at the Royal Albert Hall in London and in France, where it has just recorded Benjamin Britten's War Requiem.

A spokesman for the Chorus said: "This is the centenary of Walton's birth and now we have returned to the Dome, where it all began 34 years ago. It was thought our first ever work should be given another outing."

That closing concert will also include Vaughan Williams' Fantasy on a theme by Thomas Tallis and a new work written by the Chorus' conductor James Morgan and his wife, singer Juliette Pochin.

James said: "This is a short piece taken from a poem by Coleridge and scored for the full Chorus, the Brighton Festival Youth Choir and the Philharmonia Orchestra.

"It is something of a homage to the refurbishment of our own pleasure dome and our return here, something of a celebration."

The centrepiece of the Festival Chorus' work this year is to be the first live performance of William Walton's Christopher Columbus. This will be conducted by Carl Davis with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

Maestro Davis explained: "This is a much neglected work by Walton probably because it was written as a radio play for the BBC in 1942.

"It was written to mark not only an important anniversary of the discovery of America but also as a welcome to America which had just joined us in the Second World War, something of a morale booster as well.

"Walton was a fabulous writer of film music, his scores for films such as Henry V are legendary and, over the years, I have managed to make suites from all his film music."

In this one-off performance, Queen Isabella will be played by Sussex-based Hollywood actress Greta Scacchi.

Also included in this concert on May 18 will be Leonard Bernstein's overture to his opera Candide and Four Dances from Aaron Copland's Western ballet Rodeo.

The opening concert on May 5 will provide a rare opportunity to hear the Chorus with the National Symphony Orchestra of Washington under the baton of Leonard Slatkin, boss of the BBC Proms until the end of 2004.

Christopher Columbus is sponsored by Sussex Research Ltd.