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Born and raised in Chicago, Sara Watkins began her oboe studies at age nine. Within a year she was performing oboe concertos in public. After receiving her degree at Oberlin Conservatory, she was on her way to being recognized as one of America’s most gifted instrumentalists.
Ms. Watkins performed for 13 years as principal oboist of various American orchestras, including the Washington National Symphony under Antal Dorati and Mstislav Rostropovich. In her subsequent career as soloist and conductor, she collaborated with world-class musicians and ensembles including the Amadeus, Emerson, and Guarneri Quartets; the Moscow Philharmonic; and the Austrian Radio Symphony.
Believing in the importance of new music, Ms. Watkins gave more than 30 world premieres of works by eminent composers such as Benjamin Britten and Henri Dutilleux.
At the time of her sudden death in 1997 at age 52, she was gaining an enviable international reputation for her conducting, with performances in London, Glasgow, Paris, New York, Washington, and Miami as well as at the Aldeburgh and St. Endellion Festivals in the United Kingdom. She was married to John Shirley-Quirk.