Sara Watkins

Sara Watkins

Biography

 

Sara Watkins Shirley-Quirk, was a conductor, Peabody Conservatory faculty member and former principal oboist with the National Symphony. She was resident conductor of the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra and involved in artistic planning and conducted the inaugural concert in the orchestra’s Chamber Orchestra Series in a Maryland Hall program.

The Chicago native was a 1967 graduate of the Oberlin Conservatory of Music. She was appointed principal oboist of the National Symphony by Maestro Antal Dorati and Mstislav Rostropovich in 1973 — at the time becoming 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, which she studied at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore under Frederik Prausnitz. She was awarded the conservatory’s Artist Diploma, its highest and most prestigious conducting degree, this year.

“Of all the conductors whom I’ve taught, I believe she was the most complete and demanding artist,” said Mr. Prausnitz, who retired from Peabody in June. “She had an enormous orchestral repertoire and she worked very hard to become a very good conductor. She was demanding but not bossy and the musicians respected her.”

Since 1994, she had conducted and been music director of the Serenta at the Peabody Conservatory, where she was a member of the wind and chamber music faculty.

Ms. Watkins, a Clarksville resident who used her maiden name professionally, had started to take on a major role in the administration of the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra at the time of her death.

In October, Roger Brunyate, director of the Peabody Opera Theater, collaborated with Ms. Watkins and her husband of 16 years, internationally renowned British bass-baritone John Shirley-Quirk, on a Halloween orchestral presentation for children.

She presented “Phantoms and Phantasy,” which featured music inspired by the works of Grieg, Mozart, Mendelssohn, Stravinsky, Mussorgsky and Dukas.

“She recruited me to write a narration for the ‘Sorcerer’s Apprentice’ that would be spoken over the music by her husband,” Mr. Brunyate said.

“This was typical of her. She was always a fount of ideas and had this massive energy. She was always very eager to share music with children, and I cannot believe that any conductor anywhere spent as much time over a children’s concert as she did,” he said.

For the concert, she insisted on personally writing and recording the educational materials that were sent to Anne Arundel County music teachers in preparation for their students’ trips to hear the orchestra.

“Never before have I worked with a conductor who invested so much time and love to the development and implementation of our education and family concerts,” said Pamela Chaconas, the Annapolis Symphony’s education director.

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