Special Reports

MA Top 30 Professional: Reba Cafarelli

December 6, 2022 | By Wynne Delacoma

Managing Director
Third Coast Percussion

Throw Reba Cafarelli a curve ball, and she’ll still hit a home run.

In fall 2019, after more than 15 years as a Chicago-based arts administrator, Cafarelli became managing director of one of the city’s most dynamic ensembles, Third Coast Percussion. When the Covid pandemic exploded, she scrambled to shift the quartet’s performances online.

The players and Production Manager Colin Campbell immediately formed a Covid bubble so they could safely record together. And, thanks to the high-tech component already built into their live performances, Third Coast was already a few steps ahead of the game.

“We had high quality HD cameras,” said Cafarelli, “because the ensemble uses them during tours to show the audience interesting overhead angles during performances. We never would have imagined when we bought them, however many years ago, that they would come into play like that. And Colin is a really skilled audio engineer. He immediately said, ‘I can learn how to do all that.’”

Cafarelli had learned to love a good pivot in earlier jobs. In 2016 she was director of Chicago’s inaugural Ear Taxi Festival, working with composer Augusta Read Thomas to create six days of sprawling, invigorating concerts featuring 350 musicians and 54 world premieres. She first discovered her thirst for a challenge a decade earlier, however, while working at University of Chicago Presents, the school’s long-established professional concert series.

“We took on the Contempo series,” she said, alluding to the distinguished contemporary concerts established by composer Ralph Shapey in 1964. “In the past, the University’s music department had handled all the logistics.” But she was eager to jump in—all in. “I just immediately was excited to be working with live composers, having them there on campus, having eighth blackbird and Pacifica Quartet premiering all this incredible new music.

“I love the idea we’re creating music people will listen to and study in the future. They will understand and interpret the world through the art we’re making now. I find that really exciting.”




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