‘Seeds of Change’ opens at MMAA; ‘A Night in Olympus’ at the Illusion

Courtesy of the artist
Mike Hazard, Shoua Cuts Dahlias, *Sua txav paaj, 2014, digital archival inkjet print

More than 64,000 Hmong Americans call Minnesota home. Many rely on farming to make ends meet. Twenty families are members of the Hmong American Farmers Association (HAFA), which runs a 155-acre farm in Vermillion Township, about 20 miles south of St. Paul.

In 2014, multimedia artist and people person Mike Hazard was asked to document a year at the HAFA farm. Hazard already knew some of the farmers from the St. Paul Farmers’ Market in Lowertown, which he frequented – partly for the spring rolls, partly to photograph the people in their beautiful clothing with their beautiful produce.

At the time, he lived in the Lowertown Artist Lofts nearby. According to his partner, artist Tressa Sularz, “he would head to the Farmers’ Market three or four times a day on Saturday and Sunday.”

Hazard posted some of his HAFA photos on Facebook, where Kristin Makholm, executive director of the Minnesota Museum of American Art (MMAA), first saw them. “We should show these pictures,” she told Hazard one day. “I thought it was kind of a nice tease,” he recalls. “I said, ‘When?’ ”

Three dozen of Hazard’s photos are now on display at the MMAA Project Space, along with a five-minute video he made and a book of stories he wrote about the farm, the families and the community.

Curated by Christopher Atkins, “Seeds of Change: A Portrait of the Hmong American Farmers Association” is as down-to-earth as a museum show can get. There’s no attitude, no pretension, no jargon. The photos, with simple labels in both English and Hmong – “Arianna Harvests Zinnias/Arriana dle paaj,” “Long and Mee Weed the Field/Lang hab Mim nthua nro,” “Rosie Carries a Hmong Cucumber/Rosie nqaa ib lub dlib Moob” – speak for themselves.

MinnPost photo by John Whiting
Mike Hazard with a HAFA member family at MMAA

They speak of the hard work of farming, what it means to be a farmer, where our food comes from, why sustainable farming matters, our relationship to the planet, and the changing face of our state. Stories in Hazard’s book tell how the people of Vermillion and the people of the HAFA farm have discovered they’re not all that different.

Quietly moving and illuminating, poetic and matter-of-fact, respectful and celebratory, “Seeds of Change” is on display through July 31. MMAA has planned several related events.

On Sunday, May 22, in the afternoon, you can tour the HAFA farm with executive director and co-founder Pakou Hang and communications specialist Winnie Zwick. On Thursday, May 26, at 7 p.m., Hazard will give an artist talk at the Project Space. On Sunday, June 19, at 1 p.m., HAFA member Janssen Hang and his children, Mason and Ian, will lead an interactive demonstration about soil health and seed care. On Sunday, July 17, at 1 p.m., in a collaboration with the Hmong Museum, hip-hop artist Tou Saiko Lee and his grandmother Zuag Tsab (Youa Chang) will give a storytelling performance. All events except the HAFA tour, which is limited to 28 people and costs $15, are free. FMI.

Chopin Society announces 2016-17 season

Since 1984, the Frederick Chopin Society has brought many of the world’s top pianists to St. Paul for sparkling recitals in the warm and intimate Mairs Concert Hall at Macalester. What began with a five-day, all-Chopin festival and occasional solo recitals became a traditional concert season that also includes music by other composers. But you can usually count on substantial servings of nocturnes, mazurkas, waltzes and/or ballades sometime between October and May.

The 2016-17 season, announced earlier this week, features pianists from Armenia, Switzerland, Britain, Italy, and the U.S. via Singapore.

Armenian-born Sergei Babayan (Oct. 9) was the first pianist from the former USSR to compete and study in the West after the Soviet system’s collapse. He quickly became a laureate of major competitions. Now teaching at the Cleveland Institute and Juilliard, known as a supreme perfectionist, he’ll play music by Ryabov and Rachmaninoff and a half-program of Chopin mazurkas.

Swiss pianist Francesco Piemontesi (Nov. 13) learned from Alfred Brendel and Murray Perahia, among others, and rose to international prominence following prizes at major competitions. His several recordings include music by Debussy, Mozart, Schumann and Dvorak. At Mairs, he’ll play works by Mozart, Liszt and Schubert and a piece written for him by German composer Maximilian Schnaus.

Photo by Patrick Allen
Benjamin Grosvenor

Just 23 years old, British pianist Benjamin Grosvenor (Feb. 12, 2017) has already made two previous appearances with the Chopin Society, in 2006 and 2010. (So … his first time here, he was 13?) His recordings consistently win five-star reviews, and he’s virtuosic in everything from Bach to Gershwin. After his Carnegie Hall debut last October, the New York Times dubbed him “boy lord of the piano.” He’ll play music by Schumann, Mozart, Beethoven, Scriabin, Granados and Liszt.

By the time she turned 20, Italian pianist Beatrice Rana (April 2) had already won several major prizes including the Audience Prize at the 2013 Van Cliburn competition. Her three recordings include two acclaimed solo outings and a recent release on Warner Classics with the Accademia di Santa Cecilia. For the Chopin Society, she’ll perform Bach’s “Goldberg Variations.”

Born in Singapore, trained there and in Chicago, now studying at the Curtis Institute, Kate Liu (May 7) won last year’s Bronze Medal and Best Mazurka Prize at the 17th International Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw. Just 22, she has also won numerous prizes in the U.S., including scholarship awards from the Chopin Foundation of the United States. But she won’t play Chopin here. Liu’s Minnesota debut will include Scriabin, Brahms, Beethoven and Schubert.

All concerts take place on Sunday afternoons at 3 p.m. Information about season and single tickets will be available later this month on the Chopin Society’s website.

The picks

Today (Friday, May 13) and Saturday on the Minnesota State Fairgrounds: Northstar Artists’ Market Annual Art Sale. Formerly known as “Art on a Line,” this gigantic show features thousands of original watercolors and acrylics, many already framed and all for sale, plus continuous painting demonstrations, a scavenger hunt for the kids, and door prizes of original art. Presented by the Northstar Watermedia Society, this popular event is now in its 14th year. Free parking, free admission. In the Fine Arts Building. Today from 10 a.m. – 8 p.m., Saturday from 9 a.m. – 7 p.m.

A still from “They Will Have to Kill Us First: Malian Music in Exile”

Starts today at the St. Anthony Main Theatre: “They Will Have to Kill Us First: Malian Music in Exile.” What is it like to live in a country where music is suddenly banned? To be a musician in such a place? That happened in Mali in 2012, when Islamic extremist groups captured an area the size of the UK and France combined. Courageously, Mali’s musicians fought back. An official selection of the 35th Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival returns for a lengthier stay, in case you missed it during MSPIFF. FMI, showtimes and tickets ($8.50/$5; all tickets $5 on Tuesdays).

Tonight through Sunday at the Illusion Theater: “A Night in Olympus.” Are playwright Jeffrey Hatcher and composer Chan Poling our own Rodgers and Hart? They co-created “Glensheen,” the smash hit musical about the infamous Congdon murders that played to sold-out houses at the History Theatre last year (and returns, thank goodness, this summer). They’re back for “Olympus,” which actually came before “Glensheen” and was workshopped at the Illusion in 2012. A prom story set in an Indiana high school where the teachers are fallen Greek gods and goddesses, it stars the unstoppable Tyler Michaels opposite relative newcomer McKinnley Aitchison (and Aimee K. Bryant as Venus). 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m. Sunday. FMI and tickets ($23-$42).

Opens Saturday in the Guthrie’s Dowling Studio: “The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha.” A regional premiere inspired by Cervantes’ famous novel. The possibilities are wide open because the production is by Four Humors, whose previous literary adaptations include the hilarious, indelible Fringe Festival hit “Lolita: A Three Man Show.” 7:30 p.m. FMI and tickets ($26/$23). Ends May 22.

Saturday at Magers & Quinn: Brian Evenson reads from “A Collapse of Horses.” In the mood for some minimalist literary horror? How about a story about a stuffed bear whose heart beats with the rhythm of a dead baby? Award-winning writer and Coffee House author Evenson has won several prizes and a thumbs-up from superstar horror novelist Peter Straub. 7 p.m. Free.

Saturday at Studio Z: Ancia Saxophone Quartet: U.S. premiere of Libby Larsen’s “Confluence.” Minnesota composer Larsen’s new work explores the effects of humans on nature, as witnessed through the confluence of rivers worldwide. Spotlighting women composers, the program also includes music by Hildegard von Bingen, Ida Gotkovsky, Amy Williams and Emily Koh, and David Milne’s arrangements of jazz pianist/composer Mary Lou Williams’ “Zodiac Suite.” 7:30 p.m. FMI and tickets ($10 advance/students, $15 door).

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