Sara Watkins' gift of music Extraordinary talent: Death, at 52, of leading oboist, conductor is a loss to music world.

December 29, 1997

THE DEATH of Sara Watkins at 52 has hit the area music community hard. During her brief tenure as artistic adviser, she became a dynamic presence in the life of the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra, one of the many musical organizations the Howard County resident influenced.

In September, she introduced the ASO's chamber music series. The Halloween concert she conducted for children prompted much favorable comment as she brought works by Grieg, Mozart, Mendelssohn, Stravinsky and Mussorgsky to life.

She collapsed during a Dec. 2 rehearsal in Bethesda. She died a short while later from a coronary embolism.

Ms. Watkins became involved with the ASO during a search for a successor to Gisele Ben-Dor, who left the orchestra in April after six seasons. While Ms. Watkins was not among the four finalists for the post, she and her husband, John Shirley-Quirk, the internationally known British-born bass baritone, quickly won many admiring friends in the Annapolis musical community. Her first compact disc, featuring her husband and soprano Linda Mabbs in a program of music by Dominick Argento, was released in the fall.

Ms. Watkins was born in Chicago and graduated from Ohio's Oberlin Conservatory of Music in 1967. She was appointed principal oboist of Washington's National Symphony Orchestra by Antal Dorati and Mstislav Rostropovich in 1973.

At the time, she was one of few women occupying a principal chair in a major American orchestra. She relinquished that position in 1981 to further her career as a soloist and to pursue conducting.

"Of all the conductors whom I've taught, I believe she was the most complete and demanding artist," said Frederick Prausnitz, her teacher at the Peabody Conservatory.

"It was a pleasure to watch her in action," Phil Greenfield wrote in a Sun chamber music review in September. "She conducts with maximum affection for the music and minimum podium fuss, and her efforts seemed to engage and charm her players."

Ms. Watkins died at the peak of her powers. She is remembered as a warm person and an extraordinarily talented musician.

Pub Date: 12/29/97

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