Mona Golabek and ‘The Pianist of Willesden Lane’

On courage, persistence and the pursuit of dreams in the darkest of times

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On Saturday, the internationally acclaimed pianist Mona Golabek brings her widely celebrated performance, “The Pianist of Willesden Lane,” to the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts. An inspiring true story, this triumphant piece of musical theater follows the incredible journey undertaken by Golabek’s mother, Lisa Jura, a young Jewish musician escaping from Nazi-occupied Austria via the “Kindertransport” (“Children’s Transport”). The Holocaust Memorial Day Trust called the “Kindertransport” a “unique humanitarian rescue programme” which ran during World War II and carried approximately 10,000 children (mainly Jewish) from their homes in Germany and surrounding European states to Great Britain.

I had the privilege of speaking to Mona ahead of the opening where she talked about the forthcoming performance, her mother, her musical journey, her phenomenally successful book (on which the play is based) and a recently signed movie deal with a major studio (Working Title).  

“The Pianist of Willesden Lane,” directed and adapted by Hershey Felder, combines rich storytelling and magical rendering of classics by Bach, Beethoven and Rachmaninoff. This work has already played to sold-out audiences across the country and was awarded a Critic’s Pick by The New York Times, which hailed it as “deeply affecting.” Golabek also told us about the exciting and recent 5-year global partnership with USC’s Shoah Foundation to bring her mother’s story to millions across the globe. 

I caught Mona following her return from South Africa, where she and her NGO, Hold onto Your Music, brought her story to more than 10,000 young students. When asked to describe the trajectory of her story, she describes it as following “a young girl on a journey of loss” and the “triumph of the human spirit, holding onto her dreams of wanting to be a pianist.”

A world traveller touring places like India, U.K. and South Africa, the Grammy-nominated pianist attributed some of the transformational powers of her music to her travels, which she hopes have deepened her own “humanity and humility.” Her organization Hold On To Your Music Foundation worked with the genocide commission in Cape Town and Johannesburg, and it became very clear, very quickly how much her work resonates with students and young adults. When asked to explain this particular appeal, she said it was understandable given that “it’s a book about courage, persistence, and following your dreams in the darkest of times.”

We concluded our conversation with shared excitement for the upcoming show (which I will be reviewing when it releases) and with her advice to Stanford students daring to dream of a career in the arts: “You have to be sure that it is the most burning passion you have to follow. The arts are very difficult careers and the challenges are enormous compared to any other profession. So, make sure you have the courage to follow the dreams and the stamina and persistence for the challenges and inevitable rejections.”

“The Pianist of Willesden Lane” will be playing at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts from Jan. 18 – Feb. 16.

Contact Anupriya Dwivedi at adwivedi ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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Anupriya is a Masters student at the Graduate School of Business at Stanford. Similar to her portfolio life, career and interests, her contributions to the Daily are also a motley combination of Arts & Life (Music, Culture and Theatre), Sports Photography and some News. Anupriya has moved to Stanford from Switzerland, where she was working as a strategy consultant. She has also been a feature writer for The Times of India, has published thought pieces on banking, culture and strategy and even won a National science fiction writing competition. Her writing wildly oscillates between the formality derived from her academic life (Neuroscience at the University of Oxford as a Commonwealth Scholar) and an irreverence from her culture soaked lifestyle in London and Zurich. When she's not attending theatre premieres in Palo Alto, or buried in GSB work, she also contributes to popular science journals or writes geeky policy memos.