During a singularly distinguished career, Simon Preston has established himself, not only as one of the great organists of the 20th century, but also as one of the most illustrious musicians in the history of English Cathedral Music. As a soloist and choral director, he has appeared with many of the world’s leading orchestras, and his recordings have won universal acclaim. His work with the choirs of Christ Church Oxford and Westminister Abbey set standards of excellence which are regarded as points of reference.
Simon (John) Preston’s early childhood in Bournemouth was followed by three years as a chorister at King’s College, Cambridge, during which time he studied organ with Hugh McClean; later study was with C. H. Trevor at the Royal Academy of Music. When an unexpected organ scholarship became available at King’s College, he applied and was successful, spending the best part of five years there, continuing his studies with Trevor for a while and also working with the Organist and Director of Music, Sir David Willcocks.
At this time Simon Preston’s recording career began with the release of a record of music by Orlando Gibbons. His first solo record, L’Ascension, was made with only a week’s notice. Preston is renowned for his masterly performances of Messiaen’s works and has made highly acclaimed recordings at the Abbey Churches of Westminister and St. Albans of La Nativite and Les Corps Glorieux. His recording career continued when he moved to Westminister Abbey as sub-organist in 1962, a post he held until 1967. Among the recordings he made there were the Max Reger’s Chorale Fantasiaon“Straf mich nicht” and Reubke’s Sonata on the 94th Psalm. Also in 1982 he made an outstanding debut at the Royal Festival Hall in Janacek’s Glagolitic Mass.
After leaving the Abbey, Simon Preston gave recitals throughout Europe and North America and in 1970 became Organist and Tutor in Music at Christ Church Oxford where his work with the choir won great praise. The Choir of Christ Church Oxford made numerous recordings under Preston including music by Lassus, Byrd, George Frideric Handel, Antonio Vivaldi and Haydn Masses with the Academy of Ancient Music, as well as an acclaimed recording of music by William Walton.
Simon Preston was appointed Organist and Master of the Choristers at Westminister Abbey in 1981, where again his work with the choir received great praise. The Westminister Abbey Choir under his direction made several distinguished recordings for Deutsche Grammophon of music by G.F. Handel, Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina and Allegri among others. In addition, he directed the music at the Royal Wedding in 1986 and was also responsible for composing much of “Salieri’s music” in the film Amadeus.
Since 1987, when he resigned his post at Westminister Abbey, Simon Preston has continued to pursue an active career as an organist and conductor. During the past nine years he has had numerous tours of North America, the Far East, Australia and South Africa. His recordings for DG during this time have included the complete organ works of Bach, the Camille Saint-Saëns’ Organ Symphony with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, the Francis Poulenc Concerto with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Copland Organ Symphony with the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra. He conducted G.F. Handel’s Belshazzar at the Three Choirs Festival in England recently, followed by Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast in St. Paul, Minnesota and G.F. Handel’s Alexander’s Feast in Leipzig. There are currently more than 40 CD’s of his work available, including two versions of the G.F. Handel Organ Concertos with both Sir Yehudi Menuhin and Trevor Pinnock as well as J.S. Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto as harpsichord soloist. In addition, Simon Preston is Artistic Director for the Calgary International Organ Festival.