Amid bankruptcy, concerts by Peter Nero and Philly Pops to continue to end of season

Peter Nero at a recent show. What will happen after the four concerts has not been decided.
Peter Nero at a recent show. What will happen after the four concerts has not been decided. (LAURENCE KESTERSON / Staff Photographer)
Posted: May 10, 2011

Concerts by Peter Nero and the Philly Pops will continue through the end of the season. Whether the group can continue beyond that remains in doubt.

The Pops' final four-concert run of 2010-11, starting Sunday, will proceed under the terms of a stipulation filed Monday in U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Eastern Pennsylvania District, as part of the Philadelphia Orchestra Association's Chapter 11 petition.

The orchestra will advance a $225,000 loan to Encore Series Inc. (ESI), operator of the Pops, to fund the concerts.

"It is in no one's interest for concerts to be canceled," association bankruptcy attorney Lawrence G. McMichael told Judge Eric L. Frank.

Under the terms of a now-expired provisional merger agreement, the orchestra presented the Pops for more than five years. Monday's stipulation, however, keeps the orchestra as producer of the four concerts, but makes ESI responsible for costs associated with them.

As for next season, negotiations continue between the two groups, but ESI board chairman D. Walter Cohen said, "I am pessimistic. It looks like we've been dropped by the POA."

ESI board members were to meet Tuesday to discuss the future of the organization.

Asked whether the Pops could survive on its own, as it had for many years before its partially consummated 2005 merger deal with the orchestra (it retained its own board), Cohen said it might be an option. But, he added:

"Right now I am worried that this is the death knell of ESI and Peter Nero and the Philly Pops. Which is sad."

The meeting of the Pops board comes after several weeks of fast-changing developments.

When the orchestra voted April 16 to file for bankruptcy, the boards of the Academy of Music and the Pops, both subsidiaries of the orchestra, voted to join the move. All three organizations entered Bankruptcy Court together, to be jointly administered.

In first-day motions last month, however, lawyers for Pops artistic director Nero objected to the association's hiring law firm Dilworth Paxson, since the firm's chairman, Joseph H. Jacovini, is a member of the orchestra board.

Nero's attorney, Leslie Beth Baskin, told the court Monday that she would continue to press an objection to the Dilworth firm. Dilworth's McMichael has called the issue "a distraction."

At a recent ESI board meeting, the group decided to retain its own legal counsel, a decision board members say led to the resignation of orchestra president Allison B. Vulgamore as ESI board president and orchestra chief financial officer Mario Mestichelli as its treasurer.

ESI then elected Frank Giordano and Samuel Savitz as new president and treasurer, respectively.

Independent of the orchestra's relationship with the Pops is a contract between the orchestra and Nero. The famed conductor-pianist won an April 14 judgment from Arbitration Judge Diane M. Welsh of JAMS Inc. ordering the association to commit to a 2011-12 season, and to "publicly announce same and issue notice to the Philly Pops subscribers within 15 days of the date hereof."

That decision, however, was superseded by the orchestra's bankruptcy filing.

Talks between the orchestra and the Pops about another season have continued. The two sides were closing in on an agreement for an abbreviated schedule that would reduce the number of holiday concerts to seven from 10, and cancel all fall concerts, board members say.

Whether that deal could still jell was not clear Monday.

McMichael said he was "optimistic."

But, said Cohen, "The later it gets, the harder it is to sign up guest artists. I don't know whether we're going to have a season next year or not."


Contact music critic Peter Dobrin at pdobrin@phillynews.com or 215-854-5611. He blogs at www.philly.com/philly/blogs/artswatch.

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