William Bennett, San Francisco Symphony Oboist, Dies at 56

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William Bennett, the San Francisco Symphony's principal oboist who collapsed while performing the Strauss Oboe Concerto on Saturday, died Thursday morning in a San Francisco hospital.

Bennett had suffered a brain hemorrhage while performing the famously difficult concerto and was taken to a local hospital. He was 56 years old.

Musicians and colleagues remembered Bennett as a warm personality as well as a gifted and spontaneous musician.

“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,” San Francisco music director Michael Tilson Thomas said in a statement. "Bill was a great artist, an original thinker, and a wonderful man. I am saddened to have lost such a true friend."

Bennett joined the San Francisco Symphony in 1979 and became principal oboist in 1987. He suffered health problems in the past, including a bout of tonsil cancer in 2005, which was treated by surgery followed by radiation and chemotherapy. At the time, he told the San Francisco Chronicle that he was concerned that the tumor would impact his ability to play oboe, but he bounced back after a year-long absence.

Born in New Haven, CT in 1956, Bennett was the son of a Yale professor. He got his undergraduate degree at Yale, where he was known not only as a skilled musician but an occasional caricaturist, illustrating other musicians in his spare time [view an example]. He went on to study at Juilliard, then joined the San Francisco Symphony.

In 1992 he gave the world premiere of John Harbison's Oboe Concerto, which was commissioned for him by the Symphony. He was also known for improvising cadenzas, as he did in a performance of the Mozart Concerto in C Major in San Francisco in 2006.

Bennett is survived by his wife and two sons. Watch him play the oboe solo in Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony below.