Esther Abrami is inspiring an entire generation of music students through how she fuses her classical violin skills with social media astuteness.
With over 277,000 followers on Instagram and more than 417,700 followers on TikTok, the professional violinist is bringing centuries-old music to the new millennium by adapting film and TV scores, anime hits, and more.
For the third episode of the “Extra Credit” podcast series, Study International spoke to the award-winning professional classical violinist. We unravel the secrets behind her extraordinary journey from France to becoming an international student at the Royal College of Music to being listed as a “Rising Star” by BBC Music Magazine in 2021.
Listen below, and wherever you get your podcasts.
The transcript below has been lightly edited for grammar, spelling and clarity.
Lydia Nathan: Hello, and welcome to another episode of the one, the only extra credit podcast. Every month, we invite you to a conversation with an international student, graduate or professor about the beauty, boldness and benefits of studying abroad. My name is Lydia, and I’m your host for today’s episode with Esther Abrami.
Esther is a talented and inspiring classical musician who has played the violin at the Royal Albert Hall and has a new album called “Cinema.” Because of her superior talent, she was signed to Sony Classical in 2021 and has been appointed creative partner and artist in residence by the English Symphony Orchestra.
While completing her studies at the Royal College of Music and the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, Esther continued honing her skills and gearing up for a successful future ahead. Her debut album is a creative melting pot of different styles of classical music, full of new and inspiring compositions.
Today, we’ll be speaking to her about her music degrees from the two prestigious music schools. What inspired her success, and what is next for her. Esther, welcome to our podcast. How are you today?
Esther Abrami: Hi, thank you so much for having me. I’m good. Thank you.
Lydia: It’s great to have you here all the way from France. We are very glad you could make it. I’m sure our listeners are eager to get to know you. So, let’s jump right in.
Esther, when you were three, you received a gift from your grandmother that would set the course of your life. Can you tell us more about this gift, please?
Esther Abrami: Of course. So, my grandmother was a violinist herself. She sadly quit playing when she got married, as it was a custom back then. So she couldn’t have it in the way and never touched it again when I was three years old. She showed me what a violin was. So, she still had her small little violin from when she was a little girl. So she showed me that. That was my first introduction to the violin. I didn’t actually learn how to play right there. But it was kind of the first time I saw it. She showed me the way you’d hold it and what it would do. It was a first introduction. It was not until I was nine years old that I actually asked my parents for violin lessons. I think one great thing that my parents did was not to push me to have lessons but to wait for me to really want to take lessons and be old enough to know what I want, basically.
Lydia: So you started taking lessons at the age of?
Esther Abrami: Nine years old
Lydia: Were the lessons in the same place as where you lived?
Esther Abrami: Yes, it was in the south of France. I started doing the local music school there and then the conservatoire of the city where I got in. That’s how I started until I was 14 years old. At 14, when I graduated from the conservatoire, I then went to the UK, to England, to a specialist music school for people under 18 years old. So it was a school where we had music and academics mixed together in the same building. It was a boarding school, and we were all musicians. I studied there from 14 to 18 years old after I went on to the Royal College of Music.
Lydia: I’m sure you enjoyed your time there.
Esther Abrami: Yes, absolutely. It was a big move because it was in England and I didn’t speak English back then. So it was a lot of new things, a completely new life, but I loved it. It was great to be surrounded by people who all love the same thing. All want to be musicians. That was amazing.
Lydia: That sounds really nice. So then, you pursued a Bachelor of Music Programme at the Royal College of Music. What would you say are some of the biggest challenges you faced there, and how did you overcome these?
Esher Abrami: I think one of the biggest challenges I faced was the realisation that in a few years, you’re going to be left on your own, and you are going to have to make it a real profession to make an income from it. You know, there’s this thing where you feel like, “Oh, you are studying, you’re still students, so it’s alright.” But as soon as university is over, you’ve got to earn money, you’ve got to have a career, you’ve got to do all of that. That was the hardest kind of realisation for me, which was to think, “Okay, I’m there. I’ve just got a few years left, but I’ve got nothing ready for the outside world.” Sadly, universities don’t really teach you that. With universities, a lot of the time you’re like in that bubble, where all you care about is getting the best grades and being the teacher’s favourite, and you know, parties or whatever. But even if you focus on work, you’re focusing on work within the university, and you’re not seeing outside. I think the biggest challenge was for me to think, “Okay, how do I do that?” How do I go from being a not-so-good student to a good student? I didn’t get very good grades. How do I get from that to actually making a name and making a good living outside of university? How do I prepare that already, so I don’t end up out of university with anything, because obviously, that is something that you’ve got to prepare. So, that was the hardest challenge, and I’m glad I succeeded. But it was hard, it is not an easy thing, and you’re not being helped a lot.
Lydia: I see. Would you say that a lot of your peers or your fellow classmates also felt the same way?
Esther Abrami: I don’t know. I don’t think they all have the same realisation as me as early as I did. I had this realisation because I always saw classical music and the way I wanted to present it in a pretty different way than a lot of my colleagues. I felt really lonely when I came to the Royal College, and I felt really stuck kind of in that idea of just playing for exams, just playing for a very limited audience. I didn’t enjoy it, I stopped enjoying it because I felt like I was stuck in something. I didn’t enjoy the competition, the high competition field between everyone focusing, as I said, on who gets the better grade, who’s more in front of, you know, the best orchestra placement, you know, all of this, I felt not great within that. So because of that, I had kind of a rejection of all that world. I developed, and I saw outside the box a bit earlier, I think. A lot of people, I think, realise that after when they are out. So, as I said, the university didn’t help us to think so much about the future and more about, you know, the day-to-day in university, how to be a student. But the reason you go to university is for your future. It’s not just in the present of just being a student. That’s one important lesson I’ve learned.
Lydia: So how would you say you broke out of that bubble? I mean, what changed for you then or did anything change at all?
Esther Abrami: Using social media changed my whole perception of things. I did it at the beginning just because I felt a bit lonely and I saw that some people were doing it for other subjects and not for classical music. I was one of the very first ones to do it for classical music, but it opened a door. I saw that as soon as I posted the first video when I saw all these interactions from people because, of course, classical music wasn’t on social media as much as it is now. So people loved it. It suddenly opened this door where I had all these people coming from everywhere in the world, and suddenly I had all these professional contacts because I was progressing and I was posting content. I was doing all of that. So, bit by bit, I started getting contacts from people all over the world. From concert organisers, people who would loan me a very nice violin, and journalists. Just things that my peers just wouldn’t be getting because they weren’t out there. That’s really when I saw this huge opening that there was, and then when I saw that there was and when you see nobody, you go in, and you go to the end of it, and that’s how it happened.
Lydia: So your bachelor’s was two years, is that correct?
Esther Abrami: Four years.
Lydia: You then completed your master’s degree at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire under a scholarship. If you could pick three highlights from your time here, what would they be?
Esther Abrami: I love the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. Actually, the three highlights, I’d say the first one, are honestly the people. All the people that were there, that would be the teachers and the students, were so supportive of everything that I did, and they understood my vision of things. That’s super rare for an institution that is with classical music, which is usually something that is old and grounded in old traditions, and for them to understand my vision of things and to support that, I felt really grateful for that. So that’s definitely a highlight. The second highlight is really the facilities of the place. We had recording studios and a brand-new concert hall at the disposal of the students, which was incredible. It’s actually a little bit difficult to reply because I was so upset that during my master’s, COVID hit, and I only did a few months until March, and then of my first year of master’s and then I left, and I didn’t come back. I was so sad because it was the first place where I actually felt like I belonged there, and I was accepted the way I was. They really do that in a great way where they accept every student the way they are. So, I was actually really sad not to be on campus anymore for the rest of the time. Although we are our own building, we were part of the whole university, which was very nice.
Lydia: Okay, so how long would you say that you actually were on campus, and you could fully utilise the studios and practice and then all of that,
Esther Abrami: From September to March.
Lydia: Then, after that, did it all go online?
Esther Abrami: After that, it was online. It was all online, and graduation was online and everything. So, it was more upsetting just because it was so good when I was on campus because I would literally spend my whole day at the university. It was great, and the atmosphere was great. You just like you practice, then have a coffee, then, you know, stop for lunch. I just literally spent the whole day there, and that was amazing.
Lydia: Wow, sounds really nice and exciting. I mean, I’m sure you enjoyed practising and all that?
Esther Abrami: Yeah, absolutely. It was nice to have the space to do it because a lot of conservatories don’t have that. And students have to fight to have a space to practice. So it was really nice that there you actually did practice?
Lydia: Would you like to tell me about some of your friends while you were doing your masters? Were they all also violinists or musicians across the board?
Esther Abrami: No, definitely musicians across the board, actually. I guess you, of course, have a link with string players. So in the university, it’s like, group by group of our style of instruments, either with the strings, the wind, the brass and percussion. So I had more friends that were into stringed instruments, cello and violin. But I also had friends who had nothing to do with it. Actually, what was nice was that during fresher’s week, you mixed in with everyone, also from other people from the whole of the university. So, I actually also made friends with people who had nothing to do with music, which was nice.
Lydia: I see. That’s nice. Sounds quite well-rounded. All right, if you look back at everything you did or faced during your bachelor’s or your master’s degrees, what would you say was the biggest lesson that you learned?
Esther Abrami: The biggest lesson that I learned is to not think that the way teachers see you and the grade that you have at school or university have anything to do with how well you will do in your life later. It’s a different game. I think that’s the biggest lesson I learned. You can be a very good student and struggle afterwards and the other way around. It’s a different mindset, but I found that having a good mark on paper does not require the skill that you need, as in business skills, to be successful in life. I guess it depends on what you want to do. But I just think it’s important to know that because you can very easily feel discouraged and think, it’s not going to work for me many people are getting better grades than me, and they’re the ones that will succeed and not me. And that’s not true. So I think if I had known that earlier, it would have been easier. So I hope people know that if you are not the best in your class, don’t worry about it.
Lydia: Yes, that is that is very true. Students often they’re so worried about their grades that they lose focus on everything else.
Esther Abrami: Of course, you have got to pass, but the thing is, nobody’s going to ask you about your grades, especially the musical anyway, like, you know. People who are booking for concerts now or we just spoke about the Royal Albert Hall they couldn’t care less if I got first. They don’t care, they want you. If they like you, they book you.
Lydia: Both educational institutions are very exclusive. The acceptance rate is competitive due to its highly skilled faculty. While you were studying, I’m sure you would have met many professors and teachers along the way; who inspired you the most?
Esther Abrami: To be completely honest, I had a bit of a difficult time with professors. I never really found one I was connected to, or that supported me in what I did. My last violin teacher in Birmingham was great and really supported me. I guess that’s also why I felt like I had nothing to lose in going my own way and finding my own path because I never really had any teachers who were role models that would support me. I never had that, which is sad, I guess, but that’s life.
Lydia: Why do you think that is? Did it have anything to do with you being a woman in the classical music sector?
Esther Abrami: I don’t know. I mean, a lot of my teachers were male indeed. And for some of them, that didn’t work out well. I think there were sometimes some things that were accepted back before, and even when I was younger, things that were told to us that we accepted that I think nowadays wouldn’t be acceptable anymore. It’s just lovely to see things change. But I’m not going to blame it all on that. I think it’s also to do with personality. It’s also to do with how I really started to think outside the box, I did my own thing, and I stopped being in that, that “university mode.” That’s what disturbed a lot of professors, to be honest, because I was out going out to concerts for my own things, my own contacts, I didn’t need the contacts from the university because I had my own, and I stopped caring about getting a good grade or being well placed in the orchestra, I didn’t have time, I already had my concepts on the side. So I think that that’s also why I think they must have seen me as somebody who didn’t care about the university, which wasn’t true. I guess I was using it as a tool to build my future and not just as standing one thing.
Lydia: You used the university as what you were supposed to be doing. So that’s great. Alright, today, you’re an accomplished and award-winning young professional in a highly competitive field. You’ve played at the Royal Albert Hall, you’ve released an album, and your education was key to your achievements. How do you think other young musicians can find the right school and degree for themselves like you did?
Esther Abrami: I think it’s important to find a place where you can be yourself. It’s not always easy to find. I think sometimes we tend to go for the best-rated or the best name as a university, right? We think this one is the top in the country or whatever. Of course, it looks great on paper, and to have that in your CV, so for sure. But at the end of the day, rethink your choice of how you will feel there because you’re going to be spending a lot of time there. If you’re going to a top university, but you’re feeling lonely, you’re feeling not supported by your peers or by your professors, you’re feeling the atmosphere is too competitive for you, or that you don’t find healthy for yourself, you’re maybe not going to make the best out of it. If you go to university that you feel good at and if that’s one of the top ones, like great, and I’m just saying to be open to different possibilities. Also, be open to what you feel when you go there and the field that you’ve got to speak to other people who study there, ask them how it was, it’s important to feel good, especially at the moment, where you are building yourself, you’re building your future, it’s hard being a student at university. It’s not an easy time. There’s a lot of stress, a lot of pressure on your shoulders, pressure sometimes from your parents, pressure from fees that you’ve got to pay and survive in terms of just living expenses. It’s a lot. So, trying to find a place where you feel good is so important. I would say, speak to people there, go there, try and see how it is and try and imagine yourself there don’t just go for what you think looks best on paper.
Lydia: That makes total sense, actually. What are some of the biggest obstacles stopping young people from fulfilling their dreams of attending music school?
Esther Abrami: I think one of the biggest obstacles stopping people from going to music school is a lot of apprehension and a lot of a lot of things that they think are true but aren’t so true. So, we often tend to think, “Okay, it’s too late. I’m not good enough at this age. So forget it. I’ll never be a professional musician.” I think that’s one of the biggest things that stumped people, the thing, I started too late, I started playing music too late. So I’ll never make it compared to somebody who started when they were three years old. It’s not true, it’s so untrue. I started at nine or 10 years old, and I didn’t get a proper education until I was 14 or 15. When I came to an international school, you know, I was late, I was behind, and I fell behind, and my grades show that showed that I was behind, and at university, I was still catching up. But it’s about how strong you want it, how hardworking you are, and not where you started. It really isn’t, you can do so much and achieve so much, depending on your motivation. Even if you started much later, it shouldn’t be like one thing that you think about that’s going to make you decide not to go to university.
Lydia: That’s great advice for aspiring young musicians who need a role model to look up to. Thank you. All right, what do you do when you are not actually performing?
Esther Abrami: So I love being outside. I love animals. I love spending time I’ve got lots of cats at home. So I spend a lot of time with them, reading, doing sports, yoga, and other types of sports, such as horse riding, just normal kinds of outside activities, which I love. So that’s kind of what I do. When I have free time I spend time with my family and friends, but being outside is really one of them that I love because I’m inside a lot of the time and I was born in the countryside so it’s important for me.,
Lydia: Would you say that also inspires you to create the music that you come up with?
Esther Abrami: I live in the south of France, and I’m in the UK a lot, but from here from the South of France, it’s a very inspiring countryside.
Lydia: So what’s next for you? For this year? Any plans to play?
Esther Abrami: Yeah, for sure. So there’s my second album with Sony that’s coming out called “Cinema.” That’s coming out at the end of September and around this there’s going to be concerts. So there are concerts in London, Manchester and Birmingham. I also have some concerts in Switzerland and Vienna. So that’s all coming up. Quite a lot of preparation, but I’m really excited.
Lydia: How many hours a day do you actually practice?
Esther Abrami: It depends on obviously what I have to do or other things to do. Of course, I’m not running it by myself, and in a way, it’s like a business. So you know, you also have to spend time doing administration things and with emails, etc. So that usually you know is four hours. I try and have this kind of constant four hours a day. Sometimes, it’s more when I have a big concert coming up. We can do up to seven, eight or nine hours, but usually four hours is a good, solid practice in the morning. I usually do my practice of violin in the morning.
Lydia: Ladies and gentlemen, that brings us to the end of our chat with the very talented Esther. We sure hope you’ve had fun listening in. If you’d like to listen to some of Esther’s music, it’s available on YouTube and Spotify. While you’re on there, don’t forget to check us out at www.studyinternational.com. Until then, so long and goodbye.