WORDS Paul Polycarpou
PHOTOGRAPHS Jack Spencer
If your mental image of composers is of slightly aloof, self-absorbed older men in tweed jackets, it’s time to rethink that impression. Cristina Spinei is young, gifted, and engaging, especially when she is talking about her musical collaborations with some of Nashville’s finest musicians. Nashville is the world’s music city. Cristina Spinei is one of the reasons why.
What brings you to Nashville?
Two things. I was visiting the city with my sister on a whim and I met someone here. I was also at a point in my career where I felt like I needed a change. I thought there might be good opportunities to collaborate with other musicians here.
What were your first impressions?
I loved how welcoming a community I found here. I was used to something completely different.
Do you like country music?
I don’t like it, I don’t dislike it. I just don’t really ever hear it.
So what do you listen to?
I listen to Latin music. I love Salsa, I go to Plaza Mariachi every Thursday night for Salsa dancing. In New York, I would go to the Copacabana to hear the greats like Eddie Palmieri.
How did you get into composing?
I started taking classical lessons when I was nine. I always watched Breakfast with the Arts, interviews with Yo-Yo Ma, and I was so inspired that I wanted to create my own music. So I started when I was nine making up my own tunes.
What living person do you most admire?
My mother; she’s a very strong person. I admire her the most.
Who are the musicians that have influenced you?
Ravel. I love the harmonies, the colors, the rhythm. I love composing for dance companies so I have a strong connection with his work. Stravinsky, and pretty much all Italian opera. I love jazz. I interned with Winton Marsalis when I was in college.
Who’s someone you’d like to have a cup of coffee with?
Milan Kundera. He wrote The Unbearable Lightness of Being. I have read all his books multiple times. He has a wonderful understanding of music.
And your favorite book?
Well, that would have to be Samuel Adler’s book The Study of Orchestration. It’s the bible for composers.
What was the last good movie you saw?
I’m not really a movie person, but I did enjoy Bobbi Jene, about a dancer in the Batsheva Dance Company. I went to school with her.
What’s your greatest extravagance?
I’m a musician, I don’t spend money. I don’t have extravagances.
What’s your idea of a perfect evening?
Out dancing somewhere. There are a lot of great places in Nashville to do that.
What characteristic would you change about yourself?
To not procrastinate so much. I love those deadlines when it comes to composing. Deadlines inspire me.
Who’s your favorite artist?
I like the conceptual artist Sol LeWitt.
Are you happy with where your career is going?
I am. I’m working right now on another album and I’m using non-classical instruments on it. I’d like to get out of the strict conservatory classical realm into something that’s more encompassing.
What talent would you like to have?
I’m good with languages but I’d like to learn a lot more—Chinese, Greek, Arabic. Different alphabets, different characters.
Where else would you like to live?
If I didn’t have to get much accomplished, I’d live in Italy.
What’s your greatest achievement?
I always wanted to be nominated at the Latin Grammys. Just to be there was amazing.
What other professions would you consider?
Nothing. There was never another option for me. It was always composing.
What do you not like about Nashville?
That it’s not on the coast.
What are you looking forward to?
Working with the Ballet in October. It’s one of my favorite pieces to date.
What’s your motto?
You do you. Be who you are.
What would surprise us to know about you?
That I have a wealth of trivia knowledge.
Where do you go for inspiration?
I like being at the beach; I take long rambling walks; the Cloisters in New York.
What’s your favorite food?
Pizza. It’s my diet food. I especially like it at Lockland Table.
Is there a Nashville musician you would like to work with?
Absolutely. Bela Fleck.