Mario Paci was a well-known Italian pianist and conductor in the early 20th century. He is one of the most important contributors to the development of Western classical music in China. Paci was born in Florence on June 4, 1878 and came to Shanghai in December 1918 to give a piano recital. Because of his successful performance, the Municipal Council Government of the Shanghai International Settlement engaged him to revitalize the city’s orchestra. From 1919 Paci served as conductor of the Shanghai Municipal Orchestra (now the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra), a position he held for 23 years until 1942, when the occupying Japanese took control of city’s cultural organizations. Paci was also a renowned piano teacher; he taught piano to many Chinese students from his arrival until his death in Shanghai on August 3, 1946.
Mario Paci devoted the golden years of his career to Shanghai. He elevated the playing level of the Shanghai Municipal Orchestra to unprecedented heights, and under his tenure the orchestra became known as “the best orchestra in the Far East." Paci’s contributions to the development of Western classical music in Shanghai are so significant that this period is sometimes known as “the Paci Era.”
The presence of Paci and the Municipal Orchestra made Shanghai the center of China’s burgeoning Western classical music scene in the first half of the 20th century. Beginning in 1925, Paci insisted that Chinese should be allowed to attend the Municipal Orchestra’s concerts. Beginning in 1927 he permitted Chinese musicians to join the all foreigners’ orchestra; Tan Shuzhen, Huang Yijun, Chen Youxin, Xu Weilin, and many others became the first generation of Chinese orchestra musicians. In the 1930s, Paci began to invite Chinese soloists to collaborate with the orchestra, including Ma Sicong, Dong Guangguang. He also premiered and recorded the first symphonic composition ever written by the Chinese composer Huang Zi.
Paci also made many important contributions to music education. Because of the presence and excellence of the orchestra, Chinese music educator Xiao Youmei decided to found the national music school in 1927 under the support of Cai Yuanpai which is now the Shanghai Conservatory. Many of Paci’s own students, including Fu Cong, Zhou Guangren, Wu Yili, Wu Leyi, Dong Guangguang, and Yang Jiaren, among others, went on to become the first generation of Chinese pianists, conductors, and music educators.
Paci lived and worked in Shanghai for 27 years. His influence on the development of Western classical music performance and professional music education in China is great and profound. The year 2016 is the 70th anniversary of Paci’s death. To mark this anniversary and commemorate Paci’s contributions to music in Shanghai, this exhibition has been jointly organized by the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, and Stanford University. The exhibition was presented in the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra Hall in October 2016.