Eric Abramovitz had been training for this moment for nearly his entire life: the opportunity to study under one of the best clarinet teachers on the planet, on a full-ride scholarship to a prestigious music conservatory in Los Angeles.
The college sophomore from Canada was already an elite musician, having won a slew of awards and delivering stunning solo performances in his home country's top symphonies. And completing his bachelor's degree at Colburn Conservatory of Music in Los Angeles on a full scholarship, worth about $50,000 a year, was a dream he had been working toward since he was 7 years old.
After a lengthy and competitive audition process, he was one of two students to receive the honor that would jump-start his career. It should have been a seminal moment in the 20-year-old's life, but he instead ended up devastated when he later got a rejection email.
"I was numb when I read the email. I had to read it a few more times," Abramovitz, now 24, told BuzzFeed News on Thursday. "When I found out I didn't get it, it was really hard to deal with. I went through some really dark, sad, angry days."
Little did he know, his girlfriend at the time was the one who had sent the heartbreaking rejection.
At the time, Abramovitz was dating Jennifer Lee and both were both serious musicians at McGill. They had recently moved in together and things "became serious very fast," he explained.
What happened next, outlined in interviews and court documents filed in Abramovitz's successful lawsuit against Lee, paint the picture of a promising "what if" life trajectory knocked off its rails by what a Canadian judge called "despicable interference" by a selfish girlfriend.
Lee did not respond to BuzzFeed News' request for comment. But according to the lawsuit, when she found the acceptance email from Colburn's clarinet master, Yehuda Gilad, in March 2014, she panicked and, afraid of losing her boyfriend to the opportunity of a lifetime, sprung into action. She hacked into Abramovitz's email account (he left his email and Facebook open all the time because "trust," he said), intercepted Yehuda's offer, and replied.
Posing as Abramovitz, she told the famed musician that he was rejecting the scholarship because he "would be elsewhere." Then she deleted the evidence and created another email, firstname.lastname@example.org and, acting as Gilad, wrote her boyfriend an email that just about broke him: He had ultimately been rejected.
"We were living together at the time so she was the one to console me when I found out," he recalled. "It's really sick now that I look back on it."
In her impersonated rejection email, Lee (aka Gilad) instead offered the college student a spot at University of Southern California with a little help of $5,000 a year for an annual tuition of about $51,000, plus living expenses — an offer she knew he couldn't afford. So a devastated Abramovitz replied to the fake Gilad, turning down the offer and choosing to stay at McGill to finish his degree.
Six months after #emailgate, the couple broke up because, as he put it, "things were getting too intense and some things just weren't working out."
Still bent on studying under the esteemed Gilad, however, Abramovitz decided to audition for a place at USC, where Gilad also taught, after graduating from McGill.
Standing in front of the same man who had "rejected" him years earlier was daunting, the 24-year-old said, and he could feel some tension in the air once he completed his set.
"We went into a room to chat after I finished and he asked me what I was doing here," Abramovitz said. "He was like, 'You rejected me. Why are you here?'"
The young musician froze, utterly perplexed.
"I was like, 'Uh, no, you rejected me,' and he was like, 'No, you did,' and we had this awkward exchange where we kept going back and forth like that and I thought maybe he had confused me with someone else," Abramovitz laughed.
While he wasn't offered another full scholarship, Abramovitz said he was awarded a position at USC's certificate program and began studying under Gilad, though he couldn't shake the sneaking feeling something was off.
Then, a few months later, one of Gilad's former students approached Abramovitz after a performance to say hello and ask him a question: "Why didn't you study at Colburn when you had the chance?"
Taken aback, Abramovitz's mind began to spin, concluding that "there must be something I don't know if everyone thinks I got in."
So he began to dig. He went back to the "rejection" email and sent it to Gilad, who confirmed that it was certainly not his email address and he had never sent it.
Finding out that he had actually been accepted was one of the most "shattering" moments of his life, Abramovitz said. But he still didn't suspect that his ex would be the person behind it, surmising that it was another clarinetist "who wanted my demise."
Enlisting the help of some "computer people," Abramovitz tried to trace the account, "but to no avail." It wasn't until his friends started prodding, suggesting, "What about Jen?" that he began to wonder. The two had lived together; she had access to his computer and email and knew his passwords.
"It would have been so easy for her," he said.
Although "it hurt to even confront the possibility" that his ex-girlfriend would have derailed his career in such a way, he and his friends began to test passwords he knew she used and, after several attempts, he was in Gilad's fake email account.
"It was very Sherlock Holmes-y and we were so excited about our detective work, but it was a simultaneous stab to the heart and back," he said.
Once he pieced together all that had transpired a few years earlier, he immediately informed his professor, contacted Lee, and hired an attorney.
"At first she tried to deny it, but the evidence I had was overwhelming," Abramovitz said. "Then she blocked me on social media and we only spoke to each other through lawyers."
On Wednesday, an Ontario Superior Court judge sided with Abramovitz, who had sued his ex-girlfriend for $300,000 in general damages, including for loss of reputation, loss of educational opportunity, and loss of two years of potential income.
As a bonus, the judge tacked on an extra $50,000 “against Ms. Lee for her despicable interference in Mr. Abramovitz’s career.”
Lee did not respond multiple times to the court action, effectively squelching any legal defense she may attempt to mount going forward.
"A defendant who has been noted in default is deemed to admit the truth of all allegations of fact made in the statement of claim," the judge wrote.
Speaking from his apartment in Tennessee, where he has been performing as part of the Nashville Symphony Orchestra, the musician said he is still shocked and hurt by the dramatic ordeal, but he never let it knock him off course.
"It's very hard to know what my path would have been had this not happened," he said. "But I am happy and proud of myself because I landed on my feet. I have no regrets. I have always aspired to make a living doing what I love, and I have, so I am very fortunate."
In fact, he is moving back to Canada, having just accepted a position with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra as its associate principal clarinet and E flat clarinet. He is also in another relationship, which he describes as "awesome."
"We're really happy," he said. "I would like to think that since my first relationship my judgment of character has improved just a little bit."
In an interview on AM to DM, Abramovitz said what his ex-girlfriend did was the "ultimate betrayal."
"But then, to still have the opportunity to go work with [Gilad] was obviously my goal from the beginning," he said. "It had to be two years later at a different school that obviously cost a lot more than Colburn would've cost, but luckily it wasn't all bad in the end. I still got to do what I set out to do."
Ellie Hall contributed additional reporting to this story