For more than 35 years English organist, conductor, lecturer and instrument designer Simon Preston has been one of the worldís most famous virtuoso organists, and is widely regarded as the international doyen of his instrument. Both through his exceptional virtuoso brilliance and the remarkable versatility of his work, which has ranged from performing and recording an enormous
classical and contemporary repertoire to broadcasting, composing film scores and arranging
music for the Royal Wedding in 1986, Simon Preston has brought the organ to the widest
audience in its history and has created a new awareness of the breadth of its attraction.
Additionally he is recognised as one of the most influential and important conductors in
the history of English Cathedral Music.
Simon Preston was a boy chorister at Kingís College, Cambridge, where he studied the organ with Hugh McLean. Later he studied with C.H. Trevor at the Royal Academy of Music. He then obtained an organ scholarship at Kingís College and worked there for five years with the distinguished Director of Music Sir David Willcocks. Although still a student, Simon Prestonís technique and musical
imagination were so developed that his career as a solo performer began to burgeon. He
made his first recordings, of music by Gibbons and Messiaen, heralding the start of a
truly remarkable recording career which has flourished on a huge scale since then.
Orchestras began to engage him for concerts in which the music included important organ
parts, and it was at one such concert at the Royal Festival Hall in 1962 that the full
force of Simon Prestonís brilliant technique and highly dramatic musicality made an
especially striking impression in Jan Š cekís Glagolitic Mass. This was Simon Prestonís London
debut and it launched him on his illustrious international career. He was soon offered
international recital and concerto engagements and he was engaged to play major organ
parts in the London Symphony Orchestra with some of the greatest conductors of the time
such as Leopold Stokowski, Pierre Monteux and Leonard Bernstein.
Not long afterwards Simon Preston was appointed sub-organist at Westminster Abbey where he made a now legendary series of organ recordings on the famous Abbey organ. In particular his recordings of the music of Messiaen were and are regarded as milestones in the interpretation of this composerís music, incarnating Messiaenís true mystical and ecstatic atmospheres through conjuring up
the strongest extremes of dynamic and colour with intense control.
In 1967 Simon Preston relinquished his position at Westminster to accept the increasing number of recitals engagements he was receiving from far and wide venues in Europe and America. Nevertheless, in 1970 he accepted the post of Organist of the Cathedral and Tutor in Music at Christ Church Oxford, as this gave him the opportunity to develop his conducting talents. It was with the Choir of Christ Church that his work as a conductor first gained international recognition. Under his direction its dynamism, colour and discipline were captured in a series of recordings of a wide range of music, from Lassus, Byrd, Bach and Haydn to Walton and Stravinsky.
In 1981 Simon Preston returned to Westminster Abbey to take up the post of Organist and Master of the Choristers. Here his conducting career continued to flourish as the Choir made some now famous recordings under his direction. Whilst he was at Westminster he arranged the music for the Royal Wedding of 1986 and composed the lionís share of the music representing Salieri in the film Amadeus.
In 1987 Simon Preston left Westminster and has since then free-lanced as the most sought after organist of our time. His engagements have included major tours of North America, the Far East, Australia and South Africa. He has also become increasingly in demand as a conductor, particularly achieving notable recent successes at the Three Choirs Festival, in Minnesota, and in Leipzig. He continues to record prolifically, sometimes re-recording repertoire with which he has long been associated, and also still taking on some new repertoire. In a career spanning 40 years Simon
Prestonís organ recordings have become international benchmarks of virtuosity and
imagination and have won awards such as the Edison Classique and the coveted Grand Prix du
Disque. As well as solo works they include very many concertos in which he is accompanied
by the worldís greatest orchestras, such as the Boston Symphony with Seiji Ozawa, and
the Berlin Philharmonic with James Levine.
Simon Prestonís love and devotion to the organ has extended to his designing some outstanding new instruments. A most notable example is the organ at St Johnís Smith Square in London, which has a remarkable range of sonorities and different applications. Its highly sophisticated design makes it a very rare example of a contemporary organ that can produce warmth, grandeur and intimacy for a huge variety of musical styles and atmospheres.
Since 1990 Simon Preston has been the Artistic Director of the Calgary International Organ Festival, which he founded. He is also the Artistic Director of the International Summer School at Mount Royal College Conservatoryís Calgary Organ Academy.