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Concert Canceled After Injuries to Pianist, Wife

Accident: Arnaldo Cohen suffers hand injury; his spouse is in critical condition.


THOUSAND OAKS — The respected pianist Arnaldo Cohen and his wife, Ann, boarded an airport shuttle Tuesday with high hopes. After years of performing in South America and Europe, he was getting a chance to win a new North American audience with an appearance Wednesday at Toronto's glittering George Weston Recital Hall, one of the finest classical settings in North America.

Instead, as the van passed through Simi Valley on its way to LAX, the driver ran a stop sign and was struck by a pickup truck, police said. The shuttle tumbled across the intersection, and the pianist's wife was crushed under the weight of fellow passengers. She suffered a collapsed lung, a broken clavicle and several broken ribs.

The wreck also left Arnaldo Cohen's right hand swollen, blue and useless.

On Wednesday, the Brazilian-born musician's 47-year-old wife lay in Simi Valley Hospital's intensive care unit in critical but stable condition. Her husband, meanwhile, had canceled his plans so he could wait by his wife's bedside. There would be no performance. There would be only waiting and worrying.

"She's like an angel," he said, breaking down during an interview at the New West Symphony office in Thousand Oaks.

London resident Arnaldo Cohen, 51, appeared in Ventura County over the weekend for two performances with the symphony, one at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, another at the Oxnard Performing Arts Center. He is so popular here that Sunday, when he hosted a workshop for five young Ventura County pianists, nearly 150 music lovers showed up to watch him teach.

"He's very well known here," said J.C. Hodgdon, marketing director for the New West Symphony. "People just love him. Our events were just blockbusters. He had two standing ovations."

Although Cohen is already highly regarded in Europe and South America, the Toronto show would have been his Canadian debut, and a chance to reach a new audience for a pianist the Boston Globe described as "an electrifying supervirtuoso with amazing chops . . . a poet and a seer."

"I've been preparing for this concert for months," he said. "There are turning points in a career. One single recital, one single review, can be the spark. My manager was so happy when he got the engagement in Toronto."

Toronto's George Weston Recital Hall in the Ford Center for the Performing Arts is "acoustically one of the finest concert halls in North America," said Betsy Chess, executive director of the New West Symphony.

Performing there would have been "a real career-maker," she said. "This would have been the next logical step to take him to a whole higher echelon."

After seeing a doctor who specializes in hands Wednesday, Cohen estimated he won't play again for a month. He worried that the effects of the injury could interfere with future performances in South America and Italy and a recording date with a Swedish company.

But that was secondary as he spoke to reporters. His attorney, Robert A. Davidson of Ventura, would not say whether he would sue the airport shuttle service. But he said he believes the company is responsible for the wreck. No one was cited in the accident, police said.

As Cohen planned Wednesday to book a hotel room and wait for his in-laws to arrive from Florida, he recalled that his wife was the one who encouraged him to perform in America, and the one who inspired his music.

"After I met Ann, I started playing a lot better," he said.

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