No Name Pops perform tribute to Peter Nero, former frontman of Philly Pops

Many members of the No Name Pops played under Nero when they were with the now-ailing Philly Pops.

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Peter Nero, leader of the Philly Pops, smiles during a sound check on a stage at the foot of the Philadelphia Museum of Art steps, Monday, July 4, 2005, in Philadelphia, as he and other artists prepare to give a free concert with Elton John to celebrate America's Independence and to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS.

File photo: Peter Nero, a Grammy-winning pianist who interpreted pop songs through classical and jazz forms and served as the Philly Pops' conductor for more than three decades, died Thursday, July 6, 2023. He was 89. (AP Poto/Carolyn Kaster, File)

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This Saturday, the No Name Pops, the pops orchestra formed mostly by former members of the Philly Pops, will perform a concert honoring the Philly Pops’ former creative leader, Peter Nero, who died last summer at 89.

The tribute to Nero will include some of his favorite songs, his arrangements that were audience favorites, and some pieces Nero that were rarely heard, according to No Name’s executive director Matthew Koveal.

Most of the musicians had played under Nero when they were with the Philly Pops. Last December, those musicians, through their union, won a lawsuit against the ailing Philly Pops for $300,000 in back pay.

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Now, they are paying tribute to the Philly Pops’ former frontman. The musicians can recreate his music, but they can’t recreate the man himself whose magnetic and larger-than-life stage presence made him beloved by Philadelphia audiences for 39 years.

Koveal calls Nero a “monster.”

“Monster is a good thing, right? The personality he had took up a room,” he said. “He exhibited a confidence that was difficult to replicate. It was powerful and people enjoyed being around him. That’s why people went to concerts year after year.”

The Nero concert is the latest performance by a new ensemble trying to establish itself out of the tumult of the Philly Pops, which is still working through court proceedings over an antitrust lawsuit against Ensemble Arts, formerly Philadelphia Orchestra and Kimmel Center, claiming Ensemble was deliberately ruining the Pops.

The Philly Pops have not performed in more than a year. When asked if the Pops might start performing again, president and CEO Karen Corbin would not comment due to ongoing litigation.

The No Name Pops have made moves that appear to replace the Philly Pops: they performed on the Philly Pops’ former home turf, Verizon Hall, performed a holiday concert in the Philly Pops’ signature style, and now played a tribute to Peter Nero, the Philly Pops’ most recognizable figure.

“I wouldn’t say the replacement, although it may seem that way. We’re focusing on ourselves,” Koveal said. “All I know is that there is a void of music in the city. The musicians who created this entity, they wanted to keep performing for the patrons that so desperately wanted us to keep performing.”

One thing No Name Pops has not done is announce a season. Since its first ticketed performance in October 2023, the orchestra has operated by the seat of its pants: planning, booking, and announcing dates one at a time.

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That makes it difficult to book guest artists who typically schedule their seasons well in advance and to engage some audience members accustomed to subscribing to a series of tickets all at once.

But Koveal says it is the most fiscally responsible model now. He said No Name Pops is slowly building funding and resources, starting a year ago with $0 and now operating with a relatively modest budget of $365,000.

“We’re running a marathon when we should be crawling. We should have a staff of five people, and we have a full-time staff of one person,” he said. “We’re doing what we can. It’s not going to be perfect along the way, but the only thing that is perfect is music for people to listen to.”

“Timeless: A Tribute to the Legacy of Peter Nero” will be performed once as a matinee on Saturday, April 20, at the Kimmel Center.

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