Sad tunes and somber notes are playing for the San Francisco Symphony, as long-time oboist William Bennett died Thursday morning at a San Francisco hospital. He was 56-years-old.
Bennett was hospitalized over the weekend after he suffered a cerebral hemorrhage mid-performance Saturday night at Davies Symphony Hall. He was standing with the orchestra performing Richard Strauss’s Oboe Concerto when he collapsed on stage. Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas said in a statement:
“I am heartbroken by the tragic death of Bill Bennett, which has left a terrible, sad emptiness in the hearts of the whole San Francisco Symphony family. Bill was a great artist, an original thinker, and a wonderful man. I am saddened to have lost such a true friend.”
Bennett was born in New Haven, Connecticut in 1956 and studied at Yale and the Julliard School before joining the San Francisco Symphony in 1979. In 1987 he was promoted to principal, where he continued to wow audiences with the “liveliness and unpredictability” that he brought to his performances. In a recent review of his work, critic Joshua Kosman of the Chronicle called Bennett’s performance “as virtuosic and forthright as ever.”
In 2004, Bennett took a break from the orchestra after he was diagnosed with tonsil cancer. Following nine months of radiation and chemotherapy, Bennett was deemed healthy and returned back to perform with the orchestra.
Symphony Executive Director Brent Assink told SFist:
“How fortunate we all were that Bill Bennett was our Principal Oboe. His artistry transported us. He touched audiences around the world with his music and the warmth of his personality. We are all stunned at his sudden passing. His legacy will continue to be felt through his countless students and in the performances of the San Francisco Symphony for many years to come.”