William Bennett, the longtime San Francisco Symphony oboist who suffered a cerebral hemorrhage on Saturday night while performing Richard Strauss' Oboe Concerto with the orchestra in Davies Symphony Hall, died Thursday morning in a San Francisco hospital. He was 56.I couldn't find any video of Bennett playing Strauss's Oboe Concerto, but here he is playing the second movement of Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony (he's the one featured in the first minute):
Mr. Bennett, known to friends and fans alike as Bill, was an artist of extraordinary skill and imagination, whose musical contributions were a consistent highlight of any performance in which he took part. He had a distinctive tone that was both full-bodied and lyrical, and a ferocious technical ability that allowed him to make easy work of even the most challenging assignments.
Most striking, though, were the liveliness and unpredictability of his artistic choices. Whenever Mr. Bennett stepped into the spotlight, even momentarily, a listener could be sure that he would impart some original or unexpected twist to a familiar musical passage.
That artistic profile was in keeping with Mr. Bennett's personality. He was a buoyant and spirited man, quick with a chuckle or a joke, yet with a deep vein of seriousness about music. He was also an able cartoonist, whose sketches and caricatures during Symphony tours kept his colleagues amused.
"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. I am saddened to have lost such a true friend." ...
[T]he Strauss concerto held a special place for him. In a 1992 interview with The Chronicle before the premiere of [John] Harbison's concerto[, which was commissioned for him], Mr. Bennett said he hoped the new piece would "be a piece that young players would hear and say, 'That's a reason for learning this instrument,' the way the Strauss concerto was for me."
And here's the second movement of Strauss's Oboe Concerto performed by one of the most acclaimed oboists, Heinz Holliger (I don't know the conductor or orchestra):
The sad news about William Bennet calls to mind Giuseppe Sinopoli, who died of a heart attack while in the middle of conducting Verdi's Aidi in Berlin in 2001.