Simon Preston, acclaimed organist and conductor, dies at 83
“His wonderfully colorful registrations,” continued Mr. Oestreich, “presented in wildly imaginative juxtapositions, gave the impression on the one hand that he knew this instrument intimately, but on the other hand as if he shared fresh discoveries and spontaneous of its rich possibilities with the public.
Simon John Preston was born on August 4, 1938 in Bournemouth, a town on the south coast of England. His inspiration for taking up the organ was George Thalben-Ball, whom he heard when he was 5 on a shellac disc of Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries”.
“I guess you could say I come from a church family,” said Mr Preston, who started studying the piano when he was old enough to read the Psalter, and later more than touched on the harpsichord, said in an interview with The Musical Times. . “My uncle played the organ at the local church, my parents were both faithful there and my aunt taught at the local church school. We had a harmonium at home, and I used to fiddle with it.
While singing at King’s College, he trained with organ specialist Hugh McLean, whose former prestigious position he would assume after studying at the Royal Academy of Music. He returned to King’s at an auspicious time; the new organist and director of music, David Willcocks, was to significantly raise the stature of a choir now widely known for its Christmas broadcasts. Mr. Preston helped arrange the carol “I saw three ships” which remains in festive use, at King’s and elsewhere.
“You can already hear something individual in the King’s recordings made at this time,” Gramophone magazine wrote in a profile in 1967, noting “the brilliance of Preston’s accompaniments at the choral works by Orlando Gibbons and at the Advent Carol Festival in 1961.”
When Mr Preston graduated from Westminster Abbey he became a bit of a phenomenon; he attracted audiences like none of his older colleagues, toured the United States and Canada in 1965, and made records for the Argo label which were typically both tedious in their preparation and flamboyant in their execution.