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Musicians Union and LACO Out of Tune?

November 22, 1987|JOHN HENKEN

O, the doing and undoing O, the sighing and the suing --W. S. Gilbert

The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra has had more than its share of financial crises and managerial and administrative changes over the years. But the musical unit put onstage has been remarkably durable and consistent in personnel.

The orchestra began this season, however, with a new music director, Iona Brown, appointed in February. She is only the third person to hold that position since the ensemble gave its first concert in October, 1969.

LACO also began the season without Paul Shure, its concertmaster of the previous 14 seasons, and Janet Lakatos, a member of the orchestra since 1975 and principal violist since 1979.

And therein lies a tale. It is, however, a tale told only reluctantly and partially--or not at all--by the principal actors.

The parting has not been amicable. On Oct. 22, attorneys for American Federation of Musicians Local 47 filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court on behalf of Shure and Lakatos--who have taken no other legal actions--asking for compensatory damages and $1 million in punitive damages. The next evening, union workers distributed leaflets before the orchestra's season-opening concert, asking the audience not to applaud Iona Brown on her entrance as a form of protest.

The suit names Brown, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, board of directors president Ronald Rosen, executive director Deborah Rutter and 20 Does as defendants and lists six causes of action: breach of contract; breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing; fraud and deceit; negligent misrepresentation; intentional infliction of emotional distress, and invasion of privacy.

Lakatos says she postponed a vacation departure April 1 to meet with Rosen and Rutter at their urgent request. She was told then that "when we send out renewals (for the next season), you won't be getting one," as she recalled in a recent interview. According to the suit, Rosen told Lakatos that the orchestra management did not have to give her a reason for her release, and intimated that it was due to "musical incompatibility."

The following day, Shure attended a similar meeting, with similar results. He was told, according to the court document, that his contract would not be renewed because of "artistic differences."

Both Shure and Lakatos completed the remaining engagements of the 1986-87 season. Neither, however, accepts the reasons they were given for not being renewed. They are not happy with either the action itself or the manner in which it was done.

"I resent this treatment," Shure says. "I think it is insulting and demeaning." Lakatos concurs: "I really feel that we were treated very shabbily."

Brown's role in the releases is unclear. Neither she nor the other defendants would comment directly on the lawsuit. In response to requests for interviews, Rosen told The Times in a prepared statement that "the orchestra acted properly and within the rights granted under the Collective Bargaining Agreement" and refused to comment publicly on personnel matters.

Brown, who is performing in Europe with one of her other ensembles, the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, did not respond directly to a reporter's questions submitted via LACO management. Instead, she offered her own statement, expressing only her pleasure at working with the orchestra and her optimistic hopes for a long and happy relationship, and did not comment on the suit.

Shure and Lakatos trace the roots of the problem to the period following the resignation of Gerard Schwarz as music director in June, 1985. During the search for a new music director, LACO administrators and board members actively solicited the opinions of the orchestra's musicians about each potential director, verbally and by questionnaire.

Shure and Lakatos freely expressed their reservations about the prospect of Brown's selection to the position, they said. Brown is accustomed to leading small orchestras while playing her violin, either standing up in works in which she is also the soloist, or seated at the first desk. This practice, Shure and Lakatos felt, would restrict the type of repertory that the orchestra could play.

Brown, who was named music adviser during the search period for a new music director, led performances of a Vivaldi/Tchaikovsky program in January. According to Shure and Lakatos--and confirmed by other members of the orchestra--there was some tension between them and Brown during the preparation for those concerts. Both believe that Brown was apprised of their opinions regarding her suitability for the music director position, and state that they approached her to discuss matters, but were rebuffed.

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