That fine outfit known as the San Francisco Symphony may indeed be more than the sum of its parts, but many of those parts are themselves quite impressive. A case in point would be principal oboist William Bennett, who has held the first chair for 25 of his 33 years in the orchestra and whose warm, expressive, pliant tone wafting above the instrumental mass has uplifted many a concert hour in Davies Hall.
We can hear Bennett demonstrate his prowess on the instrument, as he has in the past as both soloist and chamber performer, in this weekend's subscription programs, which have Richard Strauss' Oboe Concerto as their centerpiece. That particular work, created in 1945 toward the end of the composer's incredibly long career, is beautiful but so full of technical challenges, including a daunting 57-measure unbroken opening solo, that it gives most oboists serious pause. (One anonymous oboist wag, commenting on a YouTube posting of it, confessed that he found it "a feat essentially akin to trying to push the Atlantic Ocean through a collapsed straw for 25 minutes.")
So keep in mind, if Bennett entrances you with the silky smoothness of his delivery, it most assuredly does not come as easily to him as it may sound.
The program, led by guest conductor Yan Pascal Tortelier, opens with Debussy's "Petite Suite" and closes with Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 1 in C minor. Given that the latter dates nearly two centuries back, it is rather amazing that the San Francisco Symphony, now a centenarian itself, is performing it for the first time. Just as amazing, perhaps, is that it was composed in 1824, when Mendelssohn was all of 15 years old.
Details: 2 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 201 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco; $15-$150; 415-864-6000,
NO REST FOR THE TALENTED: What are those marvelous parts of the San Francisco Symphony whole up to when they are not assembled with that estimable ensemble? Well, they keep right on playing, and many of them teach as well. Seven of them will be on hand for the next installment of the 33-year-old Chamber Music Sundaes series, which has taken root in a new location at the Crowden School in Berkeley and will have a whole lot of Ludwig going on there Sunday afternoon. Pianist Shunsuke Kurakata joins his S.F. Symphony violinist wife, Yukiko, in performance of Beethoven's "Spring" Sonata for Piano and Violin, the No. 5 in F major. The all-Beethoven program also includes his "Harp" String Quartet and the Quartet No. 14 in C-sharp minor, with Amos Yang anchoring the cello parts for both. The other S.F. Symphony players participating are violinists Dan Carlson, Melissa Kleinbart, Florin Parvulescu and Diane Nicholeris and violists Katie Kadarauch and Jay Liu.
Details: 3 p.m., 1475 Rose St., Berkeley; $11-$28 at the door; information at 415-753-2792 or www.chambermusicsundaes.org.
DANCING IN THEIR SEATS: Conductor Ben Simon's San Francisco Chamber Orchestra, beloved in these parts both for mounting several full-blown concert programs of classical music annually for free all around the Bay Area and for shaping those short but lively "Very First Concerts" for the tiniest, squirmiest listeners, has dance music in mind for its next outing. J.S. Bach's Baroque assemblage of dance pieces, the Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B minor, opens this weekend's programs, followed by the world premiere of an SFCO-commissioned piece, the Concerto for Guitar and String Orchestra by the rising young, Juilliard-trained composer Michael Gilbertson, with guitarist Ben Pila in the solo spot. The program also features John Corigliano's "Voyage," a work for violin and string orchestra featuring SFCO concertmaster Robin Sharp. Edvard Grieg's "Holberg Suite" closes the concerts, which take place at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Herbst Theatre in San Francisco and Palo Alto's First United Methodist Church, respectively, then moving to Berkeley's First Congregational Church for a final program at 3 p.m. Sunday.
Contact Sue Gilmore at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To hear a performance
of the Richard Strauss
Oboe Concerto, go to