Mario Paci (1878–1946), an Italian pianist and conductor, was a central figure in the development of European classical music in China. His contributions to European classical music performance and professional music education in Shanghai are so significant that his period of peak involvement is sometimes known as the Paci Era.

Paci was born in Florence in 1878 and came to Shanghai in December 1918 to give a piano recital. The success of this performance led the Municipal Council Government of the Shanghai International Settlement to engage him to revitalize the city’s orchestra, which at the time was open only to foreigners. Paci remained in China to serve as conductor of the Shanghai Municipal Orchestra (now the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra) from 1919 to 1942, when the occupying Japanese took control of city’s cultural organizations. Paci was also a renowned piano teacher and taught generations of Chinese students.

Paci spent the core years of his career in Shanghai. Under his tenure the Shanghai Municipal Orchestra gained a reputation as the best orchestra in East Asia, making Shanghai the center of China’s burgeoning Western classical music scene. Beginning in 1925, Paci insisted that Chinese audiences be allowed to attend the Municipal Orchestra’s concerts. In 1927 he opened the orchestra to Chinese musicians; Tan Shuzhen, Huang Yijun, Chen Youxin, Xu Weilin, and many others became the first generation of Chinese orchestral musicians. In the 1930s Paci began to invite Chinese soloists, including Ma Sicong and Dong Guangguang, to collaborate with the orchestra. He also premiered and recorded the first symphonic composition ever written by a Chinese composer, Huang Zi.

Paci made lasting contributions to music education. In 1927, the orchestra’s excellence led Chinese music educator Xiao Youmei to found the national music school (now the Shanghai Conservatory) under the support of Cai Yuanpai. Paci’s students, including Fu Cong, Zhou Guangren, Wu Yili, Wu Leyi, Dong Guangguang, and Yang Jiaren, would form the first generation of Chinese pianists, conductors, and educators in the European classical tradition.

The Shanghai Conservatory of Music, the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, and Stanford University jointly organized this exhibition to mark the seventieth anniversary of Paci’s death and commemorate his contributions to music in Shanghai. The exhibition was presented in the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra Hall in October 2016.