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Reaching Out to Chinese

From its establishment, the all-foreign Shanghai Municipal Orchestra had played for an all-foreign audience of "Shanghailanders,” as expatriate residents of the city then called themselves. Chinese weren't allowed into the venues where the orchestra performed, and therefore, could not attend the concerts. Paci was unhappy with this situation and battled with the Municipal Council for years. He argued that Chinese were a “musical” people and should be allowed into the concerts. In 1925, he issued an ultimatum: Chinese were to be permitted at his concerts or he would quit.

Paci won the battle, and the Municipal Council agreed to open the doors of their venues to Chinese. The Chinese quickly grew to about 25 percent of the total audience at orchestra concerts. In March 1927, Paci admitted a young Chinese violinist Tan Shuzhen to join the orchestra, and more Chinese musicians joined in the 1930s. Paci also engaged Chinese soloists and premiered new works by Chinese composers. As he told a journalist years later: "I wholly believed in the future of music in China. The Chinese have talents in music. They are a musical people. I am also proud of having been able to teach some very talented pupils. I always hope for a great future." Four Chinese musicians were members of the orchestra by 1938 (picture below).

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In 1927 Tan Shuzhen was the first Chinese musician to join the Municipal Orchestra. Mr. Tan with his teacher Arrigo Foa, the concert master of the orchestra.

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Left: Chinese violinist Ma Sicong and the Shanghai Municipal Orchestra performing Mozart’s Violin Concerto in E flat major, K.268. December 22, 1929.

Right: Concert program, May 21, 1933, Shanghai. Paci participated in “The Grand China Night” gala concert. It was initiated by the world-renowned Peking opera star Mei Lanfang and included both Western orchestra and Chinese instrumental ensembles. It also included the premiere of Russian-Jewish composer Aaron Avshalomov’s “The Hutongs of Peking” for Grand Orchestra.

Shanghai Municipal Orchestra concert program, Mario Paci (conductor), Lois Woo (piano), Shanghai, April 7, 1940.

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Shanghai Municipal Orchestra, in collaboration with Chinese soloists and chorus, performing Beethoven Symphony No. 9, movement 4 – “Ode to Joy” in April 1941.

Shanghai Municipal Orchestra concert program, Mario Paci (conductor), 100-voice chorus, Tung Kwong Kwong (piano), Shanghai, November 18 and 21, 1945.