Simon Preston has established a career as both a virtuoso organist and conductor (mainly) of religious choral music. He has also composed music, though his works have yet to gain a foothold. Preston is an expert on organs as well, affecting replacement of the traditional cathedral-style organ at Christ Church, Oxford, with a Rieger organ from Austria; he was consulted on the replacement of organs at the concert hall at St. John's, Smith Square, and at Tonbridge School. Preston has developed a broad repertory as both organist and conductor, taking in much church (and other) music from the Baroque era, and also reaching well into the twentieth century: he has performed and recorded concertos and solo works by J.S. Bach, concertos by Poulenc and Copland, and the Saint-SaënsThird Symphony. He has also led performances of sacred music by Palestrina and Lassus, choral works of Handel and Purcell, and much Anglican church music. Preston has recorded extensively over the years for various labels that include Decca, Philips, Deutsche Grammophon, EMI, and BIS.
Preston was born on August 4, 1938, in Bournemouth, England. As a child he served as a chorister at Cambridge University (King's College), a time when he also took organ lessons from Hugh McLean. Later on at the Royal Academy of Music he studied organ with C.H. Trevor.
Preston returned to King's College in 1958 for nearly five additional years of music study, his teachers there including (now Sir) David Willcocks. By the early '60s he had made several recordings, which included albums of music by Orlando Gibbons and Olivier Messiaen. Preston served as sub-organist at Westminster Abbey from 1962-1967. For the next several years he toured Europe and the U.S. as an organ recitalist.
From 1970-1981 he served at Christ Church, Oxford, as organist and tutor in music. He recorded heavily during this time, achieving particular acclaim for his 1975 StravinskySymphony of Psalms on Argo, with the Philip Jones Ensemble and Choir of Christ Church. Preston was organist and master of the choristers at Westminster Abbey from 1981-1987, during which time he composed some music for the 1984 film Amadeus and directed music at the 1986 royal wedding. After 1987 Preston freelanced both from the keyboard and at the podium. His later recordings include a 2006 Signum Classics CD entitled Royal Albert Hall Organ Restored, which includes works by Mendelssohn, Bolcom, Jongen, and others.