SAN FRANCISCO -- The principal oboist for the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra collapsed onstage in mid-performance Saturday night, suffering a brain hemorrhage at Davies Symphony Hall.

William Bennett, 56, a longtime member of the symphony, was listed in "guarded condition" Sunday at an unidentified hospital, according to symphony spokesman Oliver Theil.

"We all think the world of Bill and our thoughts and best wishes are with him and his family," Theil said. "We're just all hoping that he's going to be well."

Bennett was performing Richard Strauss' Oboe Concerto -- a virtuoso piece where the soloist stands alone in front of the orchestra. At some point early in the performance, Bennett passed out and dropped to the stage.

Long intermission

The performance came to a halt as paramedics treated Bennett on the scene and then transported him to the hospital, where he was diagnosed with the cerebral hemorrhage, Theil said. After a longer than usual intermission, the rest of the evening's music schedule resumed.

"Bill is just an extraordinary musician," Theil added. "But even more than that, he is a wonderful person. He is a leader in our symphony in every sense of the word."

Bennett joined the symphony in 1979 and has been principal oboist since 1987. He previously suffered a health scare when he was treated for tonsil cancer. But he returned in 2005 after a leave of absence.


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In an interview last week with KALW public radio, Bennett described how Strauss "wrote some of the most beautiful solos that we have" for oboists. He also hinted at how it can be a challenging, technical piece of music --including a 57-measure unbroken opening solo -- to perfect.

An athletic piece

Bennett said he had not performed the piece in two decades. The first time he played it, as a college student, "It was kind of an athletic contest playing the piece. I just wanted to hit all the notes and play it as quickly as possible." As he has grown older, Bennett added, he has come to see the piece as a "vocal exercise" where he conveys the lyrical quality of each note.

Richard Scheinin, classical music critic for the Mercury News and the Bay Area News Group, termed Bennett's "voice" a key component of the San Francisco Symphony.

"He's a superb musician," Scheinin said. "Night after night through the years, audiences have come to count on his expert renderings of whatever music is on the table -- whether Mahler's symphonies, which have lots of juicy solo spots for oboe, or the Strauss concerto he played this week, or anything else. He's comparable to a great player on a pennant-winning ball club, and also a very nice guy."

Contact Mark Emmons at 408-920-5745.