“His wonderfully colorful registrations,” continued Mr. Oestreich, “presented in wildly imaginative juxtapositions, made it appear on the one hand that he was very well acquainted with this instrument, but on the other, as if he were making fresh and spontaneous discoveries of his rich opportunities with the public.”
Simon John Preston was born on August 4, 1938 in Bournemouth, a town on the south coast of England. His inspiration to take up the organ was George Thalben-Ball, whom he heard when he was 5 on a shellac record of Wagner’s ‘The Ride of the Valkyries’.
“You could say I come from a church family,” said Mr. Preston, who began studying piano when he was old enough to read psalter, and who later took up more than harpsichord, said in an interview with The Musical. times . “My uncle played the organ at the local church, my parents were both worshipers there, and my aunt taught at the local church school. We had a harmonium at home and I always played with it.”
While singing at King’s College, he trained under the organ scholar Hugh McLean, to whose prestigious former position he would move after studying at the Royal Academy of Music. He returned to King’s at an opportune moment; the new organist and music director, David Willcocks, would greatly elevate the status of a choir now widely known for its Christmas broadcasts. mr. Preston contributed an arrangement of the Christmas carol “I Saw Three Ships” which is still used festively, at King’s and elsewhere.
“There’s already something individual to be heard in the King’s recordings made at the time,” Gramophone magazine wrote in a profile in 1967, noting “the glow of Preston’s accompaniments to Orlando Gibbons’ choral works and the Advent Carol Festival of 1961.”
When Mr. Preston graduated from Westminster Abbey, he became a phenomenon; drawing audiences different from his older peers, touring the United States and Canada in 1965, making records for the Argo label that characterized both demanding preparation and flamboyant performance.