Bold Women’s Club member Esther Abrami has been described as a “rising star” and a “glamorous and influential star” by various international publications. With performances in venues such as Carnegie Hall in New York, it is safe to say that French violinist, Esther is already quite the star. In less that 3 years, she has managed to grow her social media following to more than 200,000, ensuring her opportunities to play all over the world. We spoke to Esther about building a career within the world of classical music.
How did you become a violinist? What did it take for you to bet on yourself and embrace the challenges of a career as a musician?
Ever since I was 10 years old, I dreamt of becoming a violinist, and it was from that moment that I fully embraced any challenge that came along with it. When you’re young you don’t measure the risks of your decisions, instead you are moved by your dreams and the passion that enables you to overcome the obstacles that you meet on your way. This is the certitude that drove me forward, the absolute faith I had in knowing that no matter what happened, I would keep going because this was all I could imagine myself doing. I had no choice, it was everything I wanted. If you doubt what you are doing, if you can see yourself doing something else, that’s when you will really see struggle.
“Believe it or leave it.”
My parents are not musicians, they are not in the world of music. My mother runs a business, which, inspiring as that is, neither she nor any of my family were able to answer my questions, or to advise me in my career. I rode out the peaks and troughs myself, I stumbled my way down my path but I never faltered because I have passion.
Journalists often refer to you as the “rising star” of classical music. You have played in some of the world’s most renowned venues from Carnegie Hall to Wiener Konzerthaus. Your achievements are incredible, but there’s something else that you do that fascinates us as well, and that is in your use of social media. Can you explain the context behind your visibility on social media and how that has contributed to you personally and your career?
I started to build a following on social media about 3 years ago.
I am French, I was studying at the Royal College in London – which was amazing – but at the same time, I had no contacts, I did not know a soul. Nobody had access to my music either, and I wanted to change that. I started looking around to see how other artists from other industries were doing and I had to look beyond the traditional borders of classical music to realise that many artists were using Instagram, something totally modern, to reach out to the world. I stared receiving direct messages, and I started seeing comments appearing on my posts encouraging me and telling me how inspiring my posts were to others. It was wonderful to see a community of like-minded people coming together in this space and celebrating music.
Instagram has been a huge elevator in my career since in itself, Instagram is such a global sensation. Having a presence there, I suddenly found that my career had reached an international level, people were contacting me from every corner of the globe and I was invited to play in America, the Middle East and Asia.
Classical music is traditionally considered as a pure art, something that should never been mixed with business, certainly not with something like social media, as the emphasis is intended to be on music as the art, and not on the individual artist. “Promoting” classical music was kind of a blaspheme until the classical community began to see the positive impact this was having – the visibility and the interest it was bringing. I am very thankful for the impact that my documentation on Instagram has had on the classical music world, but further to that I am so overjoyed to read the comments from my followers telling of how empowered my story has made them feel about their own journey. I receive many messages from people explaining their struggles and feeling low, but that my videos give them the motivation to keep going. Even now I have students through Skype who decided to start learning the violin after watching one of my videos! It’s the greatest feeling. I feel like I am using the platform not only for me to build my career but for something much bigger. I feel that I am contributing to the growth of the music community in my own way.
“Instagram is capable of the worst and the best. As women we should use it to empower each other”
I heard that you are inspired by the male violinist Yehudi Menuhin. Menuhin was a fantastic musician, but do you feel like you could not find a female role model?
There are many great violinists, but Yehudi Menuhin was way more than a violinist, he used his reputation to help and empower the most disadvantaged: from refugees to deprived kids around the world. Whether he was a woman or man, this person would always have been my idol because what I really look up to in Yehudi Menuhin is the time he dedicated to help other people. There are great female violinists, today more than in the past, but I have rarely find this combination of great artistic talent in my practice, coupled with an even greater dedication to other people. This is a path I want to follow and I know that being visible on social media will give me the reach to achieve this.
Who do you look up to when you are facing difficulties?
My mother. She is my role model. The values she has instilled in me from a young age, the examples that she sets despite being in a completely different field of expertise to me, are still actions that I seek to replicate in myself and translate into my field. I admire her so much for succeeding to be a great business woman and also a wonderful mother. She demonstrates the perfect balance between thoroughness and softness. She has always been strict but at the same time she is fair, and she has helped me succeed in the path that I had chosen because of the person that she is.
What makes an empowering woman in your opinion?
Being open-minded, being resilient, and being thankful. To me, these qualities define what it means to be an empowering woman.
I don’t think it’s easy to achieve this, because when the doubt flows in, when the going gets tough and we look around and see others doing what they love and earning great salaries and really making a mark on their career, comparison will become the thief of joy. But being open-minded, resilient and thankful in retrospect and in your outlook towards your own future, I believe this will not only empower you to carry on and strive for what you love, but you will also inspire those around you.
Other people can really lift you up when you need it, but I would add here as a final comment to this section that people can also really bring you down, and unfortunately this is the darker reality of social media. This is why we filter ourselves on Instagram, we only post your best shots and try to avoid discussing all the failures and the frustration. In reality of course, no success comes without failure, it’s the failure that we learn from that makes us grow better and stronger. Because of this, I try to share not only the awards and the achievements but also my weakness, the fact that I started the violin later than most of my peers – I started at 10 when it is not unusual to start at 4 – or that I was not always successful at school. I share this part of me to show that no weakness, no obstacle should prevent you to keep fighting. I want to change the perception of failure by showing that this is what builds us, and that each failure is a step closer to success. I’m hoping that by doing this that I myself shall become a woman who empowers others.
Do you think gender has any effect on art in general or on your art form specifically?
On art itself my answer is no, but in terms of how I see the reception of art in society and who has the loudest say on that, there I would say this is definitely not neutral. Personally, I feel that I am often judged on my physical appearance, sense of style and how I present myself, which is irrelevant to being a violinist, but I think I get this because I am a woman. Some people have said that “having a pretty face” has helped me in my career and I while I accept the compliment, it feels a little undermining. My advice to other women is to not play a role, just be genuine. You don’t have to have a pretty face, you don’t have to wear nice dresses and be a style icon if that’s not who you are, and it shouldn’t affect your career either. But at the same time, if posting a nice picture of yourself in a dress on Instagram makes you happy, then do it!
Without realizing it, you are now the role model you may not have had, and you are able to inspire young women around the world. Is it something you are aware of? Are you trying to empower women by being visible on social media (or in other anyway)?
I am still surprised when I receive messages from women telling me that I am inspiring them, because I struggle so much myself with my own issues! But on the other hand, it is such an honor and a genuine joy when you hear for example that someone has started playing music because they watched one of your videos, or after a concert young people come to you and tell you that, that was the first time they have listened to classical music and that you have inspired a new passion in them. As I try to grow this community around music on Instagram I am very much aware that I have the power to inspire the best traits in others and to bring out their worst if I’m not careful. My Instagram is a part of peoples’ daily life, and this comes with a tremendous responsibility, but I welcome it.
My goal in the future is to take this duty even further by teaching violin to young disadvantaged children, and I hope that social media will help me to build the foundations for this dream.
Quick BOLD questions:
A BOLD word to describe yourself?
Ambitious. I aim to be my best self, to be a best friend, be the backbone of an amazing family, and do the best that I can in my career.
A BOLD masterpiece that you love?
A movie by Nadine Labaki “Where do we go now”.
A BOLD quote that inspires you?
“Nothing is impossible; even the word says I am possible.” – Audrey Hepburn
You most BOLD moment?
Taking time to reflect on what I have achieved in my life, where I’ve come from, and the wonderful people I’ve met along the way. Pressing pause and feeling grateful for what I have now in my life, that is my boldest and most proud moment.