Bill Bennett
Bill Bennett, who died on Feb. 28. Photo: SF Symphony

Bill Bennett, the Principal Oboist with the San Francisco Symphony, who lived in Berkeley with his family, passed away on Thursday Feb. 28. He was 56.

Bennett suffered a brain hemorrhage during his performance of the Strauss Oboe Concerto with the San Francisco Symphony at Davies Symphony Hall on Saturday Feb. 23, and never recovered.

“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.”

SF Symphony Executive Director Brent Assink 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.”

Bennett was born in 1956 in New Haven, Connecticut, the son of a Yale professor. He studied oboe at Yale and at the Juilliard School. He joined the San Francisco Symphony in 1979 and became Principal Oboist in 1987.

Bennett also taught oboe at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and also frequently appeared with the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, the Berkeley Symphony, Symphony Parnassus and other local groups.

Writing in the San Francisco Chronicle this week, music critic Joshua Kosman described Bennett as “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.”

Kosman continued by describing Bennett as 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.”

Bennett is survived by his wife, Peggy, sons Daniel and Michael, mother, Fran, and sisters Jean and Nancy.

A memorial service will be held for Bennett on the afternoon of May 6 at Davies Hall in San Francisco. Details to be announced.

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