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The Sunday Conversation: Pianist Mona Golabek holds on to the music

The creator of the one-woman show 'The Pianist of Willesden Lane,' now at the Geffen Playhouse, reflects on the gift of music.

May 25, 2012|By Irene Lacher, Special to the Los Angeles Times

That was an amazing experience. There are about 2,000 survivors left now of the 10,000 original Kindertransport children. About 1,000 people showed up for that event, and Richard Attenborough, the director, was the keynote speaker because his family took in two sisters from the Kindertransport. What was most touching was that my niece Sarah, who I think was 9 years old at the time, said to the audience in a little squeaky voice, "I make a pledge to you that I will tell my children, so you will never be forgotten, what you went through." What all of this is about is, who's going to tell the stories when they're gone and pass it on?

You've been combining words with music since you launched your radio show in 1998. How did that come about and when does it air in L.A.?

It airs on K-Mozart — KMZT [1260 AM] here in Los Angeles on Sunday nights from 9 to 11 in the evenings. Being a concert pianist and touring is a very lonely profession. I was doing 150, 200 dates a year. I would come off the road and find myself crashing into a kind of — I wouldn't want to say depression — but you're not part of the normal life here of your family and friends. And you're exhausted. And I thought, do I really want to do this for an entire life?

Around that time I was promoting a recording. I turned to the person who was interviewing me and I said, "I have a fantasy to be a voice at night on radio telling stories." He said, "Why don't you do a demo tape for us?" I brought in my diaries of George Sand, who was the lover of Chopin, and Clara Schumann and some of the poetry of Robert Browning, and I read. We started a temporary show, I had no title. I said, "Why don't I call it 'The Romantic Hours?'" I meant it as a tribute to another time, the 19th century or the 18th century when life went at a slower pace.

You don't limit the show to Romantic music?

Not at all. We've done now about 400 radio shows where we [do things like] mix Bach with Chinese poets. It's a complete potpourri. We don't announce the pieces until the end. It flows one thing into the next. We lay my text down over the music.

We got syndicated; we got a tremendous reaction from listeners around the country and we also had detractors. There were a number of program directors who did not like hearing my voice over the opening of a Beethoven sonata. So we just kept going down our path.

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