An organ star has died

An organ star has died


norman lebrecht

May 16, 2022

We have been notified of the death on Friday of Simon Preston, one of the most famed organists on record.

Simon was 83.

Appointed organist of Christ Church, Oxford in 1970 he rose to be Organist and Master of the Choristers at Westminster Abbey in 1981. Six years later he left the Abbey to pursue an international career.

His recordings include the complete organ works of J. S. Bach for Deutsche Grammophon.

He was an immensely popular and helpful colleague.


  • Micaelo Cassetti says:

    An incredibly gifted musician.

    • Robin says:

      Indeed. A fantastic person and musician to be sadly missed. I’d only met him once, by chance, years ago. I found his playing quite mesmerizing.

  • Plush says:

    Always very generous with his time and expertise. Also all done with great humor! A giant has left us.

  • Armchair Bard says:

    Preston took quite exceptional care in the preparation of his performances, not least as regards registration. Stephen Cleobury once told me that he (SP) had spent “hours registering just the closing crescendo at the end of Howells’s Rhapsody No.3” for an RFH recital.

    A propos of which, a favourite Preston story was of the occasion when he was trying to book extended practice time against the dragon who guarded the RFH rehearsal book. Eventually she lost patience: “I dunno, Mr Preston: we have celebrity organists from all over Europe here and they don’t ask for all this time.” “I know,” replied Simon. “I’ve heard them.”

    Preston’s last major composition (I believe) was the eye-wateringly virtuoso Toccata, which takes as its point of departure “the” Toccata & Fugue in D minor. There’s a marvellous live performance of it on YouTube by another deeply mourned organist, John Scott, at the Weigle organ of St Nicholas’s, Stuttgart:

  • Sisko24 says:

    One of my regrets is that I never got to hear him perform with the NYPhil in Avery Fisher/Geffen Hall. It is a deplorable fact that not then, now-nor apparently for any time in the immediate future-will there be a pipe organ permanently installed there. Nor in Carnegie Hall for that matter. His recordings are all excellent and that will be part of his honored legacy. May he RIP.

  • Andrew C. Smith says:

    The world of music and particularly organ has sadly lost a truly great exponent of
    organ-craft, and an ambassador for the ‘King of Instruments.’
    May he rest in peace and rise in glory. Amen

  • fflambeau says:

    An extremely talented musician. His organ playing skills will be missed. Rest in peace.

  • MWnyc says:

    His Christ Church Cathedral Choir was the one for many of the Academy of Ancient Music’s best early recordings: Handel’s Messiah, Birthday Ode, and Foundling Hospital Anthem; Bach’s Magnificat in E-flat; Haydn Masses, etc.

    Still the best boys-and-men Handel oratorio choir I’ve ever heard: he got a marvelously particular sound from each section and an excellent blend between them.

  • Rob Keeley says:

    A truly great, inspiring musician, a kindly academic (at Oxford) and a man with such positive energy. And his own little cod-Messiaen organ piece ‘Alleluyas’ rather memorable.

  • Una says:

    An interview between Simon and Bruce Duffie in Chicago that I recently transcribed and you may find of interest.

  • Duncan says:

    Wonderful musician. An inspiring school music teacher led me to his Messiaen recordings in the 1960s and they still sound fabulous. I heard him give the inaugural recital on the organ in Cricklade church. It had a new trumpet stop and Preston gave the organ the works! RIP.

  • Kent says:

    He was such a kind man. I was so pleased when he agreed to give me eight weeks (one per week) of instruction when he was at Westminster. Sad to learn of his passing.

  • Mark Mortimer says:

    Charming man- met him several times- fine player & lived in Tunbridge Wells for years.