Musicians' group calls in a mediator in Nero contract dispute

Posted: June 28, 2012

Saying it does not believe the Philly Pops can last without Peter Nero and an orderly passing of the baton to a successor, the local American Federation of Musicians is calling in a federal mediator in the dispute over Nero's contract.

The move to oust the 78-year-old Nero by Encore Series Inc. (ESI) "causes the union to have grave doubts about the continued viability of ESI and the Philly Pops," wrote union lawyer Michael N. Katz in a letter to ESI's lawyer. "It is our conclusion that neither ESI nor the Philly Pops can survive, over the course of the next year let alone the next 41/2 years of our recently negotiated collective bargaining agreement, in the absence of Mr. Nero and a carefully planned and mapped-out transition to a successor music director upon his retirement.

"Accordingly, as a major stakeholder in ESI's bankruptcy, we cannot support a plan of reorganization that provides for the revocation of Mr. Nero's contract and the termination of his involvement with the Philly Pops."

ESI filed a motion in Bankruptcy Court June 11 rejecting Nero's contract after ESI proposed a 40 percent cut in his compensation and talks with the Pops' founding music director failed to produce a new pact.

The AFM has become involved because if the Pops suspends operations, 60 or more of its members will lose a substantial portion of their annual income. The Pops is one of the city's prime sources of work for many freelance musicians. Its two or three dozen concerts each season, plus rehearsals, make it one of the Kimmel Center's largest resident companies.

The AFM has contacted George H. Cohen, director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.

"ESI and Nero have agreed to attempt mediation," said ESI lawyer Stephen M. Packman, most likely on Monday. He would not comment further.

Nero's lawyer, Paul R. Rosen, said Tuesday the conflict between Nero and ESI was not about money.

"It's about governance," he said. "What has to exist here is, there has to be a recognition that ESI is the beneficiary of Peter Nero's expertise, name, the orchestra and the draw. He produces the revenue for them, and they should not be controlling the board and his future. Why should he sit there and let the board president and other board members take money when this is a volunteer board?"

Pops president and chief executive officer Frank Giordano has been drawing a $1,000-a-week salary since January, and in the next fiscal year is slated to start paying himself $91,000 and another board member $60,000 annually.

"They should be putting it in, not taking it out," Rosen said. "This is a charity board, and never in the history of this charity board have they taken money out. That's the fight."

ESI administrators say the Philly Pops will have a 2012-13 season regardless of who is conducting. Nero's lawyers have pointed out in papers filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court that Nero owns the rights to the Philly Pops name. Rosen contends that Nero has the right to conduct all the concerts booked at the Kimmel next season whether or not ESI acts as the producing entity.

In a note on the Pops' website, Giordano writes that ESI filed its motion to reject Nero's contract "reluctantly, and we continue to hope for an agreement with Peter that recognizes the very real challenges we face, while also continuing to reward Peter's outstanding contribution to the orchestra and to the cultural life of our city."

"The show will go on," he wrote.

The partnership between Nero and the Pops is scheduled to go on at least one more time - on Tuesday, at a free concert in front of Independence Hall.


Contact Peter Dobrin at 215-854-5611 or pdobrin@phillynews.com. Read his blog at www.philly.com/philly/blogs/

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