Last Saturday night San Francisco Symphony principal oboist William Bennett suffered a brain hemorrhage in the middle of a performance of Richard Strauss' Oboe Concerto.
Bennett collapsed onstage just two minutes into the performance and an audience member reportedly stayed by him through a moment of stunned silence. He awoke before paramedics arrived, but was taken to a nearby hospital where he remained since Saturday. The symphony finished the concert after a lengthy intermission. Bennett later passed away Thursday morning at the age of 56.
Bennett trained at Yale and the Julliard School before joining the symphony in 1979. In 1987 he was promoted to the principal chair and a few years later had the honor of premiering John Harbison's Oboe Concerto, which the symphony commissioned for him.
"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," Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas said in a statement. "Bill was a great artist, an original thinker, and a wonderful man. He was very generous with his attention and affection for his friends, colleagues, students, and audience members. We all experienced his sunny enthusiasm for music and life. I am saddened to have lost such a true friend."
Symphony Executive Director Brent Assink also added: "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. While all of us here, the musicians, board and staff of the San Francisco Symphony, grieve with the entire Bay Area community, we also extend our love and support to Bill’s family."
In 2005, Bennett survived a bout of tonsil cancer that threatened to affect his talent for the woodwind instrument.
Bennett is survived by his wife Peggy and two sons.
The last movement of Harbison's Oboe Concerto: