Mario Paci (June 4, 1878 – August 3, 1946; in Chinese known as 梅帕器 Méi Pàqì) was an Italian pianist and conductor who was instrumental in establishing classical European music in China.
Paci was born in Florence. He attended the Naples Conservatory and in 1895 won the Franz Liszt Prize. Afterwards, he undertook extended tours across all of Europe. Through the support of Giacomo Puccini, he was able to study composition and conducting at the Milan Conservatory.
In December 1918, Paci went to Shanghai, in order to give a few performances in the Olympic Theater. He became so sick that he was hospitalized. For various reasons, he ended up staying in Shanghai. In 1919, he undertook the leadership of what is now the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, the oldest symphony orchestra in Asia, which had been founded in 1879 as a military wind band. Paci succeeded in having the orchestra grow from 22 to 37 members and gave the first symphonic concert in Asia on November 23, 1919. On the program was Beethoven's fifth symphony, the serenade for strings "In the Far West" by Granville Bantock, and Edvard Grieg's Peer Gynt Suite No. 1.
In 1922 the orchestra was renamed the Shanghai Municipal Council Symphony Orchestra. Initially, the audience was composed of foreigners living in Shanghai, who numbered about 20,000; at this time Chinese were not permitted to attend the concerts. Persistent pleas by Paci to the officials led to the loosening of these restrictions. This also applied to the orchestra itself, which originally was composed exclusively of foreigners, but later incorporated Chinese musicians.
Paci's support also contributed to the founding of the National Special School for Music (國立上海音樂專科學校), which since 1956 became the Shanghai Conservatory. This school, established by Cai Yuanpei and Xiao Youmei, was the first conservatory in Asia. Among the teachers there who were also members of the orchestra was the German composer Wolfgang Fraenkel (1897-1983), who fled Germany in 1938, and violinist Tan Shuzhen.
A high point in the history of the orchestra was the Chinese premiere of Beethoven's ninth symphony on April 14, 1936, under the direction of Paci; by this point many Chinese were in the orchestra, although they were not among the singers.
With the beginning of and the Japanese invasion of China and the Second World War, the situation for the orchestra became more severe. Under these conditions, Paci was finally forced to give his final performance with the orchestra on May 31, 1942, after which the orchestra dissolved. It was reestablished in October 1950, but by this point Paci had already died in Shanghai.