Peter Nero Obituary, Death – Peter Nero, a famed concert pianist whose career spanned more than 65 years and included stints as conductor of the Philly Pops and the Philadelphia Orchestra, passed away on Thursday in Eustis, Florida. He was 89. Beverly Nero confirmed to The Philadelphia Inquirer that her father passed away from natural causes. Nero was a beloved part of Philadelphia’s cultural scene for the whole three decades (1979–2013) that he was associated with the Philly Pops Orchestra, where he was known for conducting with one hand while playing the piano with the other. Peter “brought Philadelphia countless unforgettable moments,” the Pops said in a statement to the Inquirer. His ideas, abilities, and artistry have been a constant source of motivation for the Philadelphia Pops.
Nero had a successful career as a pianist before he became a conductor, releasing more than 70 records and enjoying widespread commercial success. Featuring symphonic covers of such songs as “Three Coins in the Fountain,” “Tea for Two,” and “Maria” from “West Side Story,” his second RCA album, New Piano in Town, earned him the title of “Best New Artist” at the 1962 Grammy Awards. The following year, he won again for Best Performance by an Orchestra or Instrumentalist with an Orchestra for The Colorful Peter Nero. Although Nero occasionally teetered on the brink of schmaltz, he added great melodic complexity to this middlebrow offering. His unique fusion of pop verve, jazz dexterity, and orchestral polish found an audience during a period when rock ‘n’ roll represented the rebellious spirit of young people. On the Billboard pop album chart in 1963, Hail the Conquering Nero peaked at position five.
Only two years later, in 2004, RCA issued The Best of Peter Nero, a compilation of songs from his modest but successful discography, which, according to a brief review in Billboard, “adds up to one powerhouse of musical entertainment and enjoyment.” Hollywood stardom at the time was one indicator of his widespread fame. In addition to composing the score for the Jane Fonda–starring romantic comedy Sunday in New York from 1963, Nero also makes a cameo appearance in the film as himself, playing a nightclub. Indeed, this mirrored reality quite well. Nero was a huge draw in nightclubs, and his characteristic sound was a combination of classical (Prokofiev and Liszt) and jazz (Gershwin and Porter) classics with contemporary (from “Hello, Dolly!” to “Hey Jude”) popular themes.
New York Times jazz writer John S. Wilson praised Mr. Nero’s performance at the St. Regis Hotel in 1971, saying, “Mr. Nero is a polished, skillful and imaginative pianist with taste and a sense of humor.” “He enlivens his performances with occasional flashes of jazz, but for the most part he is considerate of the composer’s melodic intent.” Michel Legrand’s sad, Grammy-winning music for a blockbuster coming-of-age picture, “Theme From ‘The Summer of ’42,” was his most successful tune, reaching No. 1 in 1973. Nero’s recording sold one million copies and peaked at number twenty-one on the Billboard Hot 100 ranking of popular singles.