The Philly Pops organization is threatening to sever its relationship with its celebrated pianist and music director, Peter Nero.
The Pops two months ago reopened negotiations on Nero's contract, which runs for two more years. After talks failed to produce an agreement, the Pops' board voted Tuesday 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 chief executive officer Frank Giordano. "I can't pay the Pops' conductor that kind of money."
Giordano says he had proposed that Nero take a 40 percent pay cut.
Giordano, who said he started drawing a $1,000-per-week salary in January as the chief administrator, said that if a pact could not be reached by Friday, lawyers for the Pops would file a motion asking to reject Nero's contract. A hearing would be scheduled in Bankruptcy Court. 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 said he had 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 Atlantic Trailer Leasing Corp. Guest talent would be engaged, he indicated.
Giordano said that 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 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 said that in addition to putting himself on the payroll — he served without a salary before 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.