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8 Resign From Camerata, Claim Poor Leadership : Labor dispute: Eight musicians, including the concertmaster, criticize Ami Porat, the ensemble's music director and founder, and allege late salary payments. Porat denies the allegations and blames personality conflict.

January 23, 1991|CHRIS PASLES

At least eight musicians, including concertmaster Endre Granat, have resigned from the Mozart Camerata chamber orchestra, alleging inept musical leadership from music director Ami Porat, consistently late salary payments and other violations of Musicians' Union regulations.

Porat, founder of the Camerata, which is one of two Orange County chamber ensembles, strongly denied the allegations. "There have been no late payments. Absolutely not," Porat said Tuesday. "I'm sure that in the past there were some errors in some calculations, but they were all made good."

Frank Amoss, president of the Orange County Musicians Assn., Local 7, said Tuesday: "There seems to be a lot of unrest among the musicians, the main point being that they were consistently late getting paid for the concerts. . . . It was a month (before they were paid) last time. The contract calls for 14 days." Amoss confirmed the union is also looking into other possible contract violations but declined to elaborate.

In response to complaints the union received from 17 Camerata musicians at a meeting on Jan. 14, union officials said that they will require the posting of a bond to cover salaries for rehearsals and the next Camerata concerts, on Feb. 9 at St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church of Newport Beach and Feb. 10 at the Irvine Barclay Theatre in Irvine.

Amoss said the union's executive board will inform the Camerata's management of the bond requirement at a meeting on Monday.

As for the resignations, Porat said he was aware of only one resignation and that "personnel changes are a natural course of action in a per-service orchestra" such as the Camerata. Seven other members, however, confirmed their resignations in recent interviews with The Times.

Porat also argued that the pay dispute is over the wording of the contract, claiming that the issue is whether the contract specifies 14 calendar days or 14 working days. "It is matter of interpretation of what the contract says," he said.

Amoss, however, said: "The contract calls for payment within 14 days. When it means working days, it says working days ; 14 days is 14 days. Even if it was (14 working days), it (Porat's calculation) would be off. The checks were postmarked Jan. 3. . . . The concerts were Dec. 8 and 9."

As for questions of his artistic leadership, Porat said: "There are some issues raised regarding President Bush's leadership, too. My work speaks for itself."

Porat blamed one individual--principal second violinist Alex Horvath--for any defections. (Horvath is co-principal second violinist with the Pacific Symphony and has played for the Camerata for four seasons.)

"It's a personality conflict between me and Horvath," Porat said. "Horvath has been disgruntled, and he resigned. He controls a lot of people because he's a contractor for various organizations. . . . Everybody has the freedom of choice to play or not to play. I have a long list of musicians who have played for me since 1980, and I'm sure the list will increase."

As to the reason for the conflict, Porat said, "it's beyond me. If I were unhappy some place, I would simply leave."

Horvath denies the accusation of a personality conflict and said Monday that while internal dissatisfaction with Porat have been building for years, the turning point occurred after the orchestra broke down in a December performance of Suk's Serenade in Irvine and had to start the last movement over.

"The most embarrassing moment was when we came to a dead halt," he said.

"It would be wonderful if we could have a chamber orchestra of the caliber of the players that we had there, with a different conductor," Horvath added. "Let (Porat's) board do what the Pacific Symphony did so successfully: Initiate a search for a new director."

Granat, who also is concertmaster of the Pacific Symphony, joined the Camerata in November of 1989, as substitute concertmaster for the remainder of the 1989-90 season. He replaced Brian Denbow who had resigned because of increasing commitments to the Angeles Quartet.

"Of course I noticed immediately we were being led by someone who was less-than-experienced," Granat said Monday, adding that he resigned because the situation "was just untenable--musically and otherwise.

"When I resigned, (Porat) asked me not to talk to the press and I promised I wouldn't if there would be no further (union) violations. The next thing that happened, the checks . . . came a month later. It was totally unjustified. That's why I'm talking about it."

Porat denies that charge. "That's absolutely not true," he said.

This is not the first internal dispute the Camerata has experienced. In 1988, Porat and board president Leslie S. Cotton had a dispute over Porat's right to vote as a member of the board of directors and over the renegotiation of Porat's salary. Cotton resigned in July and was replaced by George Dashiell, who remains president of the board.

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