Eric Abramovitz applied to the world-class Colburn Conservatory of Music in Los Angeles, which offers every student a scholarship covering tuition, room and board, and living expenses.
Eric Abramovitz was 7 when he learned to play the clarinet. By the time he was 20, the Montreal native had become an award-winning clarinetist, studying with some of Canada’s most elite teachers and performing a solo with Quebec’s finest symphony orchestra.
During his second year studying at McGill University, he decided to apply to the world-class Colburn Conservatory of Music in Los Angeles, which offers every student a scholarship covering tuition, room and board, and living expenses. He hoped to study under Yehuda Gilad, an internationally renowned clarinet professor who accepts only two new students a year at Colburn. In recent years, 80 percent of the clarinet positions in North American orchestras were filled by Gilad’s students, the professor testified in court documents.
Abramovitz spent hours every night practicing, he said in an interview. And after his live audition in Los Angeles in February 2014, he was confident he would be accepted.
Weeks later, he opened an email signed by Gilad, letting him know he had not been selected. Abramovitz was crushed. He ended up finishing his bachelor’s degree at McGill, delaying his professional musical career. “I just invested so much,” Abramovitz said. “I gave it all I had.”
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Two years later, Abramovitz would find out that he was, in fact, accepted to the program. The email was sent not by Gilad but by Abramovitz’s girlfriend at the time, Jennifer Lee, a flute student at McGill who had spent night after night consoling him about the rejection, Abramovitz said.
Lee had logged onto Abramovitz’s email account and deleted the acceptance letter to Colburn, Abramovitz said. She impersonated Abramovitz in an email to Gilad, declining the offer because he would be “elsewhere.” Then she impersonated Gilad through a fake email address, telling Abramovitz he had not been accepted, according to Abramovitz.
Abramovitz suspects it was a scheme to ensure that he wouldn’t move away.
On Wednesday, a judge in Ontario Superior Court, D.L. Corbett, awarded Abramovitz $350,000 in damages in Canadian dollars (more than $260,000 U.S. dollars) caused by Lee’s “reprehensible betrayal of trust” and “despicable interference in Mr. Abramovitz’s career.”
Not only did Abramovitz suffer a loss of income and a delayed education, but he also had a “closely held personal dream snatched from him by a person he trusted,” the judge wrote.
In 2016, about two years after he thought he had been rejected by Gilad, Abramovitz applied once more to study with the professor. Gilad remembered Abramovitz. And after his audition, Gilad asked him a perplexing question: “What are you doing here? You rejected me.”
“Clearly something must have gone wrong,” Abramovitz said he thought to himself. At first, Abramovitz thought he could have been deceived by a “computer-savvy clarinetist out there who wanted my demise.”
By this point, he and Lee had already been broken up for more than a year. Even so, it did not occur to him that she could be responsible for impersonating him. “I never would’ve even considered that the person I trusted the most would have done something like this to me.”
But then one of his friends suggested the possibility that his ex-girlfriend could be responsible. After all, when they dated, Abramovitz essentially lived with her, leaving his computer easily accessible to her. She knew his passwords and could have easily logged on to his email.
In May 2016, Abramovitz and his friend tried logging on to the email account that sent the fake rejection letter, firstname.lastname@example.org. Abramovitz remembered an old password Lee used for Facebook, “and sure enough, we got right in.” Lee’s contact information appeared clearly in the email account. The only exchange in the Inbox was the rejection letter sent to Abramovitz.
“It was not only a stab in the back but in the heart,” Abramovitz said. He hired a lawyer, filed a lawsuit against Lee and never spoke with her again.
Lee never responded to the lawsuit he filed against her, and lost by default. The Washington Post could not locate her for comment.
In 2016, after his re-audition, Abramovitz got another chance to follow his dream. He began studying at the University of Southern California (USC), where Gilad also teaches. In January, he joined the Nashville Symphony as an assistant principal clarinetist. Months later, he accepted a similar position in the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.
“I’m very thankful that despite what happened and what she did, I still landed on my feet and realized what I set out to do,” Abramovitz said. Though had he begun studying with Gilad years earlier, he could have saved tens of thousands of dollars in tuition money at McGill and USC. He also could have fast-tracked his professional career.
Writing in a sworn affidavit, Gilad said he agreed.
“I am certain that had Eric not been robbed of his opportunity to study with me two years earlier, he could already have won an audition and been commanding this respectable salary two years earlier,” Gilad wrote.
Since his breakup, Abramovitz has begun a new relationship, he said. “A healthier one.”