The MBNA Chester Music Festival, produced by Chester Performs, opens on June 3 at Chester Town Hall with a world premiere performance of a new arrangement of an old favourite.

Claude Debussy’s Children’s Corner Suite has been a piano favourite since it was written in 1908, but here in Chester it will be given a brand new twist.

Mercury Prize nominated pianist and composer Gwilym Simcock will be performing as part of the festival’s ensemble, Ensemble Deva, and he has used the Debussy piece, originally written for the French composer’s three-year-old daughter, as the basis for a jazz influenced new piece.

Because during the festival he has at his disposal the skilled members of Ensemble Deva, Simcock has been able to expand the piece to encompass a string quartet as well as the piano which will give this world premiere a brand new character.

Special place

Gwilym said: “I played the Children’s Corner Suite as a very young child, and it’s always had a special place in my heart.

“That was probably over 25 years ago, and the idea to maybe open the movements up and explore them had been percolating in my head for a long time - and this concert seemed like a nice opportunity to finally do it!

“A number of years ago I did a similar kind of thing with the slow movement of the Grieg Piano Concerto, and more recently with several pieces of Bach, a couple of which are presented here.

“These explorations seemed to have been a success and went down well, so it gave me encouragement to see what could happen if I worked in a similar vein on the Debussy.

“I’d originally thought of just a solo piano version, but having a string quartet to play it too is a great compositional resource, as it allows me to move away from the written material a little more - hopefully without the clarity of the original being compromised.

“I’m well aware that every single one of these movements is perfection, and that it’s potentially a dangerous thing to tamper with them!

“I am doing this with utmost respect to the original, and in the knowledge that Debussy was a great re-arranger himself, so hopefully he would approve of the concept, had he been around today!"

Festival line-up

The festival continues until June 13 with a host of concerts ranging from jazz singer Liane Carroll to an early music concert in the Chester’s oldest church - St John the Baptist’s on Vicars Lane.

There will be many chances to see Ensemble Deva in the specially adapted ‘in the round’ concert space in Chester Town Hall. Plus Manchester Camerata will be at the festival for two orchestral concerts at Chester Cathedral.

The festival’s artistic director, conductor Clark Rundell, said: “We couldn’t be more delighted about this year’s festival. This opening concert will be a thrilling world premiere start to 11 days of the highest quality music-making the like of which you won’t be able to see anywhere else.

“Gwilym Simcock is a hugely exciting composer and a pianist of breathtaking skill and in tandem with people such as Giovanni Guzzo, Ensemble Deva’s leader, and a host of other players from our top orchestras, he will make this an unforgettable week and a half.”

Tickets for the world premiere and all of the other festival concerts can be bought at, by calling 0845 241 7868 or in person at Chester Visitor Information Centre, Northgate Street.