Lighting the way forward // For one month, ‘Hatched’ gives the Esplanade a feminist glow
Top: Maria Finkelmeier (center) at the “Hatched’’ illumination display with project manager Jane Long (left) and technical director/projectionist Pamela Hersch. Above: Long and Finkelmeier.
By Grace Griffin, Globe correspondent


From 5-9 p.m. nightly through Feb. 21. The display starts every 20 minutes at :00, :20, and :40.

The first time Maria Finkelmeier saw the Hatch Memorial Shell on the Charles River Esplanade, she was a kid in Cincinnati watching Boston Pops concerts with her family on TV. After moving to Boston as an adult, she got to enjoy many in-person experiences with the site — from biking the area when she was dating her now husband, to catching concerts by Boston Landmarks Orchestra on hot summer evenings. As a professional percussionist, she even got to perform on the stage.

“The Hatch Shell has this deep-rooted history with orchestral music,’’ Finkelmeier said via phone recently. But with a new multi-sensory art installation, she said, “we’re pivoting to say ‘Let’s make this a platform for contemporary music.’ ’’

Commissioned by the Esplanade Association for the park’s 20th anniversary, Finkelmeier’s “Hatched: Breaking Through the Silence’’ will play nightly through Feb. 21 from 5 to 9 p.m. The work features original music and light illuminations created by Finkelmeier and her team of collaborators.

Finkelmeier moved to Boston eight years ago, originally to teach music at New England Conservatory. The 35-year-old artist poured energy into the Make Music Boston event and building her reputation as a contemporary percussionist. These days she also teaches a class on music and entrepreneurship at Berklee College of Music.

All the while, Finkelmeier has noticed that younger female artists keep asking for her insights about being a woman in the music industry. Those inquiries, coupled with the deep reflections the pandemic forced upon her, led Finkelmeier to reevaluate how gender has impacted her work, what kind of art she aims to make, and who her collaborators should be. These ruminations inspired her to launch a new multidisciplinary art firm last year called MF Dynamics.

Finkelmeier noted the names of famous composers emblazoned across the Shell. “There’s 88 names etched into the Hatch Shell and 87 of them are men,’’ she said. “We’re celebrating history but also pushing forward.’’ (The lone woman’s name on the Shell belongs to Amy Beach, whose “Gaelic’’ Symphony received its premiere by the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1896.)

For the “Hatched’’ commission, Finkelmeier chose to work with a team of mostly women-identifying artists. They received almost complete creative freedom, she said.

The Esplanade Association’s only request was for something involving color and light. The purpose of the project, according to Executive Director Michael Nichols, is to bring beauty to the park while giving locals a reason to get outdoors during the colder months.

“So much of what we do is about creating an environment in the park that feels safe, interesting, and augments the natural beauty of the Esplanade and the Charles River,’’ Nichols said. “That is perhaps hardest to do in the winter.’’

So Finkelmeier and her team recorded aerial videos of hands playing percussion instruments and drumming on blank space. These videos will be cast onto the Hatch Shell using projection-mapping software, creating the illusion of the structure being a giant instrument. Complementing that will be brightly-colored light displays and a 15-minute musical composition.

To capture the emotional impacts of COVID-19, Finkelmeier said she composed the work’s musical element to correspond with the varying moods she felt over the past year. While the piece has its somber moments, Finkelmeier hopes the joyful bursts and hopeful undertones will serve to uplift visitors.

Keeping in line with social distancing protocols, the illuminations and projections will be viewable from numerous angles throughout the spacious park. Additionally, music can be streamed via smartphone from Finkelmeier’s Bandcamp page:

These measures were implemented with hopes of attracting as many attendees as possible for the display’s monthlong run. Both Nichols and Finkelmeier pointed to the lack of other fun outdoor events this winter. With “Hatched’’ showing for 30 nights, Finkelmeier said she hopes people will make time to meet up with friends and family there to enjoy the show.

“I think one thing we all miss is human connection and experiences we can identify time and memory with,’’ Finkelmeier said. “I feel the weight of creating a public art piece during this time. I want people to find joy, find themselves, and find pride in our city.’’

Grace Griffin can be reached at grace.griffin@ and on Twitter @GraceMGriffin.