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Simon Preston dead at 83

May 24, 2022
Simon Preston
Simon Preston

Simon Preston, 83, English organist, conductor, and composer, died May 13. He was born August 4, 1938, in Bournemouth, UK, and attended Canford School in Wimborne, Dorset. He was a chorister at King’s College, Cambridge, where he began organ studies with Hugh McLean. He would later study with C. H. Trevor before being named organ scholar at King’s College.

Preston made his debut at Royal Festival Hall, London, in March 1962, the same year he became sub-organist at Westminster Abbey, serving until 1967. He made his first concert tour to the United States and Canada in 1965. In 1970 he became organist of the cathedral and tutor in music at Christ Church, Oxford, before returning to Westminster Abbey in 1981 as organist and master of the choristers, remaining there until 1987. He directed music for the 1986 royal wedding of Sarah Ferguson and Prince Andrew and was responsible for composing much of the “Salieri” music for the movie Amadeus. Starting in 1987, he pursued a career as an international recitalist, performing throughout Europe, the United States, Australasia, Asia, and Africa. His appearances in the United States were coordinated by Lillian Murtagh through the late 1970s, then by Karen McFarlane through 2000, and finally by John McElliott of Karen McFarlane Artists, Inc., through his final appearance in the United States in 2012 at Spivey Hall, Morrow, Georgia.

Preston was well regarded as a composer of choral and organ works as well, perhaps his best-known composition being Alleluyas (Oxford University Press) for organ. His numerous organ, harpsichord, and choral recordings (more than one hundred) include the complete organ works of J. S. Bach, complete organ concertos of G. F. Handel (recorded twice), as well as his own compositions. In 1971, Preston was awarded an “Edison Classique” for his recordings of Messiaen’s Les Corps Glorieux and Hindemith’s organ sonatas. The recording of Handel’s Coronation Anthems with the Westminster Abbey Choir conducted by Preston was awarded a “Grand Prix du Disque” in 1983. Queen Elizabeth II named him an Officer of the Order of the British Empire and, in 2009, a Commander of the Order of the British Empire. In 2011, he was awarded an honorary doctorate by Mount Royal University, Calgary, Canada.


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