The Philly Pops lives.
Peter Nero and his orchestra have agreed to split from the Philadelphia Orchestra Association, ending a six-year experiment that was bumpy from the start, stormy at the end, and never fully consummated.
Under terms of the separation, the Pops will receive a $1.25 million settlement from the association to fund future operations. The association will continue to provide office space and some organizational support to the Pops through June.
And the Pops - which was unsure whether it could continue operations apart from the association - can announce a season and begin selling tickets.
Musicians and guest artists, on tenterhooks for months, have been informed that the concerts will go on, Nero said Monday.
"I'm ecstatic," said the internationally acclaimed pianist and conductor, 77. "I really miss playing with the orchestra and miss playing for our audiences. I can't wait to get back into it."
Pops board president Frank Giordano said he was happy with the deal. "You always want more, but we can do very well with this," he said. "The Philly Pops will go on. It's very sustainable. We do very well with ticket sales. Unlike other organizations, we earn a high percentage of our income through ticket sales."
The orchestra, which sought to split from the Pops well before its April Chapter 11 filing, folded the effort into its bankruptcy proceedings. The eight-page severance agreement - filed with U.S. Bankruptcy Court on Monday and subject to approval by Judge Eric L. Frank - is the first finished business in those proceedings. When the association's board voted for Chapter 11, the Pops board followed as protection.
Orchestra president Allison B. Vulgamore declined to comment, but in a mass e-mail said the severance allowed the orchestra "to take an important step toward achieving long-term financial stability. . . ."
Through its bankruptcy filing, the association also seeks a new labor contract with musicians and a revamped lease agreement with the Kimmel Center. Those talks continue.
If this had been like any other year, the Pops, founded with impresario Moe Septee in 1979, would have announced its 2011-12 season and begun selling tickets months ago. But the orchestra's desire to split from the Pops kept it from announcing a season. The matter was brought to arbitration, and on April 14, Judge Diane M. Welsh of the arbitrator JAMS Inc. ordered 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." Two days later, the orchestra's bankruptcy filing rendered that moot.
Lawyers for the Pops have negotiated for a settlement for several months, and in the most recent salvo, Nero's lawyers threatened to compel a representative of the Annenberg Foundation to testify as part of a financial examination of the foundation and the orchestra.
That request - which was to have been heard Oct. 5 - will be withdrawn, Giordano said. Lawyers are discussing the legal mechanism for the Pops' exit from bankruptcy.
The Pops, hobbled in its ability to engage artists, will perform with a slightly reduced calendar. Instead of the normal 30 concerts, it will do 23; an operating budget of $2.8 million will likely shrink to $2.1 million; the usual fall series won't happen. Philadelphia programs will begin with the holiday concerts, starting Dec. 9. (An Oct. 1 concert in Trenton will go on as scheduled.) Giordano said the Pops plans to return to its normal 30 or so concerts per season in 2012-13.
The 2005 merger was negotiated during the tenure of association president Joseph H. Kluger with assistance from then-State Sen. Vincent J. Fumo, who helped steer state money to the Pops. Orchestra attorney Lawrence G. McMichael said the chief reasons for the association's wanting the separation were that the association was "losing money operating them" and "we don't have the staff to deal with it. Our staff keeps shrinking, from about 75 to about 40 right now."
Asked whether the orchestra planned to shift into more populist repertoire itself, McMichael said: "I have no clue. I'm just a lawyer."
Peter Nero and the Philly Pops will begin their Philadelphia season in the Kimmel Center's Verizon Hall with seven holiday concerts from
Dec. 9 to 22.
Other programs include:
"A Night at the Oscars," with Jodi Benson and Sal Viviano, Feb. 8 to 12.
"Symphonic Surfin' Safari (A Tribute to the Beach Boys)," with Papa Doo Run Run,
March 21 to 25.
"Ultimate Pops," featuring Nero at the piano, April 11 to 15.
"Broadway's Most Wicked Villains," with Alli Mauzey, Nicole Parker, and Ryan Silverman, May 9 to 13.