Interview with Cristina Spinei

PART TWO – Click for Part One.

Guest blog post and interview by Kelly Corcoran of Latin Grammy nominated composer Cristina Spinei (b. 1984), an Intersection Composer Ambassador. Cristina’s compositions have been commissioned and performed by ensembles including the Gateway Chamber Orchestra, National Symphony Orquesta Sinfónica de la Universidad de Guanajuato, Orchestra of Uruguay OSSODRE, Pacific Northwest Ballet, and the Racine Symphony Orchestra. Ms. Spinei received her BM and MM in composition from the Juilliard School where she studied with Pulitzer Prize winning composer Christopher Rouse.


I spoke with Cristina Spinei about her new work, Formas, for our Mariachi program and her thoughts on the new music scene in Nashville.

Describe your compositional process.

Cristina: I always start composing at the piano. I’ll play around with chord progressions, textures, or patterns until I find something that I like. When I started Formas, I wrote the second movement first. I usually remember the moment when something strikes me, and with this piece I got the opening chords at 1am. I was banging out a bunch of different rhythms on the piano and this one stuck. Luckily none of the neighbors have complained! Once I have a motive that I’m happy with, I think about it away from the piano. I find that it’s easier to develop an idea when I’m doing something else. Distraction usually helps me compose!

Cristina Spinei - photoWhat kind of research and listening did you do to prepare for the writing of Formas?

Cristina: I listened to everything I could find! From older recordings of mariachi music to newer groups such as Flor de Tolache who are reinventing the tradition. I definitely have some favorites – Antonio Aguilar’s Siglo de Ausencia was probably the biggest influence on the first movement of Formas. I’m absolutely in love with that album! And songs like Son de la Negra and La Madrugada gave me a rhythmic framework for the second movement.

What surprised you or was the most exciting to you in your discovery and exploration of Mexican music?

Cristina: The thing that surprised me most is that mariachi isn’t just one style of music, there are many different forms that mariachi covers. I love that each one of these forms was written for and inspired by dance. That spoke to me the most because much of my music has been inspired by movement. I choose two of those forms, bolero and son jalisciense, as the basis for my piece.

When you write an original piece, with the influences of other styles, how does your unique voice shine through?

Cristina: I have to admit, I struggled at first with how I was going to incorporate the sounds of mariachi into my music. I didn’t want my piece to sound like a ‘classical’ version of mariachi. It was important to me to have cohesion all around; I wanted to have a flavor of mariachi in my own style. I decided to use rhythm as the uniting factor of both styles. In Formas the bolero rhythm is unaltered, but the harmonies and textures are very much my own. I took more artistic liberty with the rhythm of the son jalisciense. I chopped it up in places, and lengthened it in others. But it definitely still is a son.

How does Formas fit into your larger repertoire?

Cristina: I think Formas is a natural progression in my work. It’s influenced by dance and driven by rhythm, which most of my music is. In Formas I tried to allow my music a little more space with the first movement. The Bolero breathes a little bit more than my music has in the past. That has always been a challenge for me – stillness in music – but I tried working with that idea in this piece. It is also slightly minimalist (minimally minimalist?) which has been a trait in my music for a while.

What are your thoughts on the contemporary classical music scene in this country and specifically what is happening in Nashville.

Cristina: I love what is happening in the contemporary classical music scene in Nashville. I feel that there is an excitement here about concert music that you don’t necessarily see in other places. Because this is a city of musicians, music of a high quality is respected, regardless of style. I have found people here more willing to collaborate across genres. I’m dying to do a project where I compose with a singer-songwriter or even a rock band. There are so many opportunities to create and perform interesting work.

You are the “Composer Ambassador” for Intersection. How do you define that role?

Cristina: To me a composer ambassador is someone who reaches out to the community and makes people aware of contemporary concert music. People are always surprised when I tell them that I’m a composer. Most of them have never even met one before! So it gives me great joy to explain what it is that I do and to demystify the role of a composer. I also teach piano and composition and I’m encouraging all of my students to come to this concert. It amazes me how many children have never been to a performance of live music and I try to be an advocate for that. I knew that I wanted to be a composer after seeing a dress rehearsal of The Barber of Seville in fourth grade so I know how important it is to be exposed to all of this wonderful music at a young age!

Mariachi is January 31, 2016 at 2pm at Casa Azafran. Special Thanks to DART music for supporting Intersection’s second season of music. To learn more about Cristina Spinei, Kelly Corcoran, Intersection and Mariachi visit

Sign up for our newsletter!

Join our community of independent musicians, label leaders, and industry professionals.

Stay updated on industry news, insights by music leaders, and messages from Dart Music staff through our monthly newsletter.