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Stunned silence of orchestra after oboist is felled by stroke

There has been no public word from the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra since William Bennett, its principal oboe, was rushed to hospital on Saturday night after he collapsed during the Richard Strauss concerto.

The orchestra’s website contains no mention of the incident. The press room has nothing but upbeat releases about upcoming concerts. The music director, Michael Tilson Thomas, has tweeted nothing.

They must, of course, be terribly shocked by the fate of a close colleague, but there is a pressing need to put a public face on such events. Failure to do so appears callous and inept.

 

william bennett

UPDATE: 12 hours later, the San Francisco Symphony’s Executive director posted the following notice on its Facebook page.

On Saturday evening February 23, our Principal Oboist William Bennett collapsed on stage at Davies Symphony Hall during his performance of the Strauss Oboe Concerto. Upon arrival of the paramedics, Bill was transported to a local hospital, where he was diagnosed as having suffered a brain hemorrhage. He is being closely monitored in “guarded” condition. Michael Tilson Thomas and the entire Symphony family send their best thoughts and well wishes to Bill and his family. He is a remarkable musician and wonderful friend, and we all hope for better news soon. We have passed along to the Bennett family your outpouring of well wishes. If you would like to send a message, we are receiving cards and notes at the Davies Symphony Hall box office. They can also be mailed to our street address at 201 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94102, Attention: Bill Bennett and Family. We will provide additional updates as we receive them. – Brent Assink, Executive Director, SF Symphony

2ND UPDATE, 24 HOURS LATER: Michael Tilson Thomas has tweeted: My heart is open to my dear friend and colleague Bill Bennett. Keeping him and his family in my thoughts during this difficult time.

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Comments

  1. Steve de Mena says:

    The US has stringent HIPAA (health privacy rules) and that may be why nothing public has been released. Let’s all hope for the best.

    http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/privacy/hipaa/understanding/index.html

    • A message of sympathy would have sufficed.

      • The Symphony is taking cards at Davies on his behalf. As Bill’s student I’d like to request that you please take down his personal address. The family is going through enough at this time and I think it’d be best if everything went to Davies right now so they could receive it on their own time-table.

        The SFS Facebook page: “On Saturday evening February 23, our Principal Oboist William Bennett collapsed on stage at Davies Symphony Hall during his performance of the Strauss Oboe Concerto. Upon arrival of the paramedics, Bill was transported to a local hospital, where he was diagnosed as having suffered a brain hemorrhage. He is being closely monitored in “guarded” condition. Michael Tilson Thomas and the entire Symphony family send their best thoughts and well wishes to Bill and his family. He is a remarkable musician and wonderful friend, and we all hope for better news soon. We have passed along to the Bennett family your outpouring of well wishes. If you would like to send a message, we are receiving cards and notes at the Davies Symphony Hall box office. They can also be mailed to our street address at 201 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94102, Attention: Bill Bennett and Family. We will provide additional updates as we receive them. – Brent Assink, Executive Director, SF Symphony”

  2. Steve de Mena says:

    @kron4news: The principal oboist for the San Francisco Symphony is in guarded condition after suffering a brain hemorrhage… http://t.co/fmXyhYDVQQ

  3. Malcolm James says:

    I seem to remember that it took the LSO to put up anything about Kieron Moore.

  4. On the Symphony twitter account, at least 24hrs old, and on their website too “Thank you all for the well wishes for Bill Bennett, and for keeping him and his family in your thoughts.”

    • Where on the website? It’s on none of the pages visible from here.

      • On the press room page where all their twitter comments are repeated. Their Bill Bennett tweet is the only one, you can’t miss it.

        • I did. It was easy. It says little. Nothing from the chief exec. Or MTT. Bad form.

          • Steve de Mena says:

            I would say that he, nor anyone with his healthcare power of attorney, has authorized health information to be released. That could mean he is unconscious @ unable to speak.

          • This family has gone through an awful lot in the last ten years, and this happened in such a horrific and public way. I can see why the symphony hasn’t said much because it is both very serious and also very private. I was at the concert Saturday night as were many others who know Bill personally, including his colleagues (some of 30+ years) on stage who were deeply affected by this. It’s taken me days to be able to write anything about it. It was very traumatizing to everyone involved and I think you need to take that into consideration.

          • Stefani burk says:

            There is a note on the “Press Room” page now.

          • thanks… better late than never

  5. Malcolm James says:

    I seem to remember that it took the LSO a few days to put up anything about Kieron Moore.

  6. Steve de Mena says:

    @SFSymphony: Thank you all for the well wishes for Bill Bennett, and for keeping him and his family in your thoughts.

    (1day ago on Twitter)

  7. Is it possible that the family requested the silence in the interest of privacy?

    • Flower Clock says:

      Alison, I think that may be the case. Apparently he has remained unconscious since Saturday night.

  8. I have been through a similar situation with a family member and it can take weeks before someone is out of the woods. It’s difficult but patience is required.

  9. Orchestra Friend says:

    Norman, you are waaaaaaay off base here in more ways than one. You are categorizing something as callous and inept, when you simply don’t know what the Symphony has done. This is a horrifying circumstance, and care must be taken when talking about a private situation that unfortunately happened in public. The Symphony has in fact informed its public, and a statement is now available on the website.

    In addition, your decision to publish Mr. Bennett’s home address is a disrespectful invasion of his privacy. You should remove it immediately, and publish the Symphony’s mailing address.

    Bill Bennett is beloved by the SFS family and they are collectively devastated by the situation. Your thoughtless and cruel categorizations reflect badly on you, not them.

    • The symphony informed its public some time after we prompted them to do so. We posted Mr Bennett’s address at the instigation of one of his friends. We have removed it now that the Symphony has become proactive.

    • Thank you orchestra friend. I could not have said it any better.

  10. harold braun says:

    There is a post on the website including well wishes by MTT, Mr.Assink and all members of the Orchestra.
    Just click”Press Room”.It’s the first post.You can’t miss it.

  11. I don’t know why you think SFS did anything at your prompting.

    The news about Mr. Bennett was known to the public Saturday, because word spreads fast these days. The SF Chronicle had an article up on Sunday. The SFS communications department has been responding to press inquiries. It’s not as though anyone is keeping secrets.

    There is no further news from SFS because the flow of information is quite rightly under the control of Mr. Bennett’s family.

    • There is a protocol for such terrible events, mercifully rare as they are. The people in charge of the organisation are expected to offer as much information, sympathy and public reassurance as they can, as quickly as they can, and they do it in their own name. Everyone appreciates the trauma suffered by the SFSO. It should not, however, have taken three days for the chief executive and the music director to respond.

      • bratschegirl says:

        I can think of good reasons why the SFS would not start putting out press releases/blog posts/tweets etc. immediately. For example, perhaps there were family members as yet not notified, and the SFS did not wish them to hear such shocking news via Twitter? Perhaps the family asked SFS not to do so? To assume that, because their reaction was different from the way you think you would have responded, it is necessarily indicative of callousness or incompetence seems at best premature.

  12. Nanci Severance says:

    Speaking as a member of the SFS, we have all been stunned and saddened by this tragic event. It has taken a few days to be able to respond to the outpouring of concern from all of my colleagues around the country and in the Bay area. The family of Bill Bennett has the right to decide what is in the best interest for them and for Bill. The SFS is of course abiding by the Bennett family wishes, as it should. The members of the SFS have been updated as is appropriate and we are all praying for Bill and his family.

  13. Mr. Lebrecht,

    The silence has been ominous, yes. The situation is ominous. It’s a difficult, painful, almost unbearable time. The initial announcement and event could not have been more public. The family (including the orchestra and staff, all of whom love Bill) deserve privacy. Do you really think this is about you, and your blog?
    As one of Bill’s longtime admirers and friends, I am praying for his recovery and for his family. He is one of the greatest oboists I’ve ever heard. Please come back to your senses and simply wish him and the SF Symphony well in this difficult time.

  14. Eric Gordon says:

    We are all together in this business of living, and each of us has our own style and our own expectations. There is always time to improve policy, make and demand apologies, sit quietly or raise our fists against heaven. I was there myself and with or without any information already released or any information yet to be released, I am stuck with shock and sorrow and will remain that way for a great long time. I fervently hope Bill pulls through. For him, for his family, for his friends, his students and his colleagues. For the world at large. I most certainly do hope so. Perhaps I delude myself in this, but if anyone alive can handle a thunderbolt from the blue, Bill can. There is nothing most of us can really do but hold our faith in him and bathe him in good will, come whatever may.

  15. Jennie Smith says:

    Norman, as you may recall, I am an outspoken R.N. with decades of experience in ICU /CCU, Heart Surgery Recovery, Neuro ICU, etc. I agree with the members of Symphony and spokespersons that detailed news is not to be expected within the first 24 to 48 hrs., nor are reporters or the public entitled to updates, unless deemed appropriate and timely by the family and organization. First, a diagnosis has to be established. Once that is done, since it apparently involves a cerebral hemorrhage, there is no clear prognosis. No one is hiding anything. Hospitals have protocols more rigid than press agent & reporters might wish. In addition there is the privacy issue, being sensitive to family, and the as-yet unknown prognosis. I have experienced sudden cerebral hemorrhage of a close family member. Family is not thinking of you or public updates! One spot of good news; S.F. has renowned Neurology / Neurosurgery care. What we can do is send prayers and good thoughts to Bill and the family.

    • Jennie, thank you for your expert comment. I agree with you, but for a single, important caveat. The absolute priority in any such situation is the well-being of the patient and his or her loved ones. However, when an event of this kind occurs in a public place – indeed, a public performance – the public both within and beyond the venue has a right to be informed, and kept informed, of every aspect that does not impinge on patient privacy.

      Failure to inform provokes widespread speculation and a loss of trust in responsible institutions. In a tragic incident – such as the fatal collapse suffered by Giuseppe Sinopoli while conducting at the Deutsche Ope in Berlin – it is the second duty of the organising authority, once the medical emergency is in safe hands, to inform the public, arrange for its dignified dispersal and encourage its good wishes and prayers for the patient. That is the basic protocol for the venue. Beyond that point, medical confidentiality prevails and none should seek to breach it.

    • Maggie Cooke says:

      I cannot agree more with Jennie’s comment. I am not in the medical field, and even without those stringent privacy policies, I am not owed any courtesy updates under such staggering personal circumstances. We are so accustomed to instant updates, tweets, posts, texts, as if all we have to do is think “refresh” and the news should by rights come pouring in. I have been checking back myself as often as practical, having known Mr. Bennett professionally, and from living in his neighborhood. The news today has shocked me and left me feeling empty. But for me or anyone outside of his circle of family and close friends to have expectations of information beyond what has been offered is at best self-centered.

  16. As a patron of the SFS, I just received this announcement:

    The San Francisco Symphony is deeply saddened to announce the passing of Principal Oboist William Bennett. Mr. Bennett had been hospitalized since Saturday, February 23, after suffering a brain hemorrhage during his performance of the Strauss Oboe Concerto with the San Francisco Symphony at Davies Symphony Hall.

    “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,” said Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas. 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.”

    All of us here in the San Francisco Symphony family grieve this enormous loss with the entire Bay Area community. We also extend our love and support to Bill’s family.

    Condolences for the Bennett Family can be dropped off at the Davies Symphony Hall box office, and messages can be posted at http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/williambennett1. Thank you for your support and love for Bill and his family and our orchestra musicians during this difficult time.

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