Philly Pops may part ways with Peter Nero

The Philly Pops organization is threatening to sever its relationship with its celebrated pianist/music director, Peter Nero.

The Pops two months ago reopened negotiations on Nero’s contract, which runs for two more years, and after talks failed to produce an agreement, the Pops’ board Tuesday voted to file for rejection of Nero’s contract in U.S. Bankruptcy Court.

“We’ve been trying to negotiate his contract since April, to no avail, to renegotiate a lower number,” said Pops president and CEO Frank Giordano. “I can’t pay the Pops conductor that kind of money.”

Giordano says he has proposed that Nero take a 40 percent pay cut.

Giordano, who said he himself started drawing a $1,000-per-week salary in January as the chief administrator, said that if a pact can’t be reached by Friday, lawyers for the Pops will file a motion to seek to reject Nero’s contract. A hearing would be scheduled in U.S. Bankruptcy Court to consider the matter. The Pops is still in bankruptcy as a result of formerly being part of the Philadelphia Orchestra Association, which filed for Chapter 11 reorganization in April 2011.

“I am still hopeful we can come to some type of settlement, but I’ve got to get the clock ticking. We have a lot to do,” said Giordano.

The board vote was “almost unanimous,” he said.

Nero says he has retained lawyers to fight the rejection of his contract, should a motion be filed.

“In April, they made me an offer that was absolutely horrific. I have been doing this for 52 years and I have never been treated in this fashion,” he said. “Their offer showed me very clearly that they didn’t want me around. I have no reason to resign, according to the public and the musicians’ feedback I get, as evidenced by the standing ovations of the audiences.”

Nero said he saw the move as a “takeover attempt” of the organization, which he joined in 1979 as founding music director.

The Pops has already announced its 2012-13 season with Nero on the podium and at the keyboard. If a deal isn’t reached, and the Pops prevails in rejecting the contract, “we have a plan,” said Giordano, who also is president of the Atlantic Trailer Leasing Corp. Guest talent would be engaged, he indicated.

Giordano said Nero’s most recent annual compensation was $513,000, and that the Pops was offering him about $347,000. Nero disputed the accuracy of the $513,000 figure, saying that it included costs for office space, storage, transportation and other expenses related to his job as both conductor and the artistic chief who assembles programs and hires guest artists.

Giordano says that in addition to putting himself on the payroll — he served without a salary prior to January — he plans on hiring a new chief operating officer for the Pops.

The Pops board has scheduled a June 18 meeting to vote on a plan to exit bankruptcy, he said, with or without a new contract with Nero.