If ever there was a classical concerto that can be likened to a marathon run, then hands down it would have to be Richard Strauss' Oboe Concerto in D major. The task of performing this breathtakingly beautiful piece falls on Katherine Needleman, principal oboist for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

Under the baton of guest conductor Christopher Konig, who makes his debut with the BSO on Saturday night at Strathmore, the orchestra also presents Debussy's Petite Suite and Beethoven's monumental Symphony No. 7.

Needleman will sit out on the above two works, due to the demanding nature of the concerto and what she calls the major challenges for the artist.

"In the opening -- everybody calls it the opening two pages -- there's not one single rest, and Strauss has no concern for the oboe breathing," she said. "There are extended passages with no place to breathe. Just working the muscles in the face ... is difficult."

BSO Classical Concert: Strauss, Beethoven and Debussy
» Where: The Music Center at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda
» When: 8 p.m. Saturday
» Info: $29 to $91; 410-783-8000; bsomusic.org

Strauss wrote his concerto in 1945, after a visit from the principal oboist of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, who wondered why the composer never wrote a work for the instrument with orchestra. Strauss' response was to create one of the greatest compositions ever written for the oboe. While the piece is pure delight for the listener who is amazed at the player's stamina, its execution challenges the musician to the core.

Needleman, while a bit anxious, has placed her confidence in the sensitive performance of the orchestra she has been a part of since 2003, noting that the musicians' coordination with the conductor balances the piece and makes it work.

Sadly, she will make an announcement before playing, by way of a dedication to, and remembrance of, San Francisco Symphony's principal oboist, William Bennett, who collapsed onstage last Saturday while performing this very piece. His subsequent death from a stroke left his family, friends and fellow orchestra members throughout the county stunned and devastated.

"It stresses me out because I don't want to break the horrible news to people, but everyone is thinking of him," Needleman explained.

Because no one could have foreseen the death of the much-loved 56-year-old musician, the program has not been changed. Strauss' vigorous oboe masterwork will be dedicated to Bennett by his family of musicians who have lost one of their own in what Needleman calls "the line of duty."