After sixteen years of intense worldwide touring, Bohemian Music Agency manager and Bohemian Symphony Orchestra Prague chief conductor Martin Šanda found himself in a tough situation: COVID cancelled all his concerts. Martin, however, wasted no time and came up with a way to not leave his colleagues out in the cold. He started a new company, where musicians became couriers, bringing people’s groceries to their doorstep. And since they’re still world-class virtuosos, occasionally they deliver a song or two as well. In his interview with LP-life.com, Martin opened up about starting his company PřivezemeNákup.cz ("We bring your groceries") as well as about how lack of finances caused, among other things, depressions to many artists...
Tell me about your last concert, Martin. Where did it take place, what did you play, and did you suspect it would be your last concert for a long time?
Our last concert before the first wave of the pandemic was on March 12, 2020. We were still overly optimistic back then and we thought it would all be over as fast as it came. After that we had to cancel several dozen concerts scheduled for March to June. Sadly, this also included out forthcoming audiovisual project of performing Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana in the Smetana Hall of Prague’s Municipal House. After the restrictions loosened in summer, we played several concerts; last of them took place on 11th August, and it was in the Municipal House as well. Then the second wave of the pandemic came, and by then it was clear we’re not going to be able to perform in public for quite some time.
How did you and other artists in your ensemble react, when you found out that you wouldn’t be able to perform, how many concerts you had to cancel, how much money it would cost?
As I said, at the beginning of the first wave we were very optimistic. After all, we had been used to flu epidemics for years. The metaphorical cold shower came at the beginning of the second wave. Not many people realize that an art agency has to pay for operating costs, such as rent for offices, storage of musical instruments, utilities or maintenance. Those costs reach hundreds of thousands of crowns.
That was at the beginning of October 2020, when the second wave of the pandemic begun. We had to cancel the rest of our concerts until the end of the year, including the great Carmina Burana in the Municipal House concert, which had already been rescheduled several times at that moment, or the grand Hauser in Prague (Stjepan Hauser/2cellos) concert in Prague’s Great Sports Hall. Not to mention dozens of smaller events, including Christmas concerts.
It was not that hard to come up with the idea. We already had it premeditated for some time. Moreover, I think both my business partner František Zemjánek and I are quite creative and have already been through many changes in our lives.
Take, for example, František – among other things he’s been the Chief of Criminal Police for the murder and theft department. And today he’s a splendid cultural events dramaturg, requested by the world’s largest companies and corporations, such as Microsoft. The continuous realisation of new concepts has been our daily bread for many years and we certainly couldn't complain about a lack of variety in our lives. Therefore, the realisation of this idea was just as fast as putting together one of our shared events. Our friends from Orange Cup Studio, who are great musicians as well, helped us a great deal by preparing our e-shop for launch in an extremely short time, for which they deserve our great thanks. Actually, what delayed us the most was the slowness of Czech banks...
Describe the operation of your business in more detail – how many people, cars and customers you have, what do you deliver, how far do you go, how long your delivery periods are...
Of course, every beginning is hard. You have to keep learning all the time. But if you do your thing honestly and wholeheartedly, people will appreciate it. I, for example, have learned heaps of new information about online marketing, so now I know that PPC or SEO are not sexual deviations (laughs).
We deliver a complete range of groceries, toiletries, household goods, pet food and lately also protective equipment against COVID-19. We are a standard online supermarket offering a complex product range that we keep expanding continuously. At the moment we deliver through our own couriers all over Prague and its outskirts. According to our couriers' capacity and the time of order, we either deliver the order the same day it was placed, or the next day. Moreover, we send all our products, excluding perishables and refrigerated goods, through the "Balíkovna" service all over the Czech Republic. We also strive to keep our prices as low as possible, because we place our satisfied, returning customers above our own profits and advantages.
Even in the current depressing times, we can bring our customers some joy with their groceries. At our customers' request, we can send a "musical" courier, who can accompany the delivery with a bit of singing or playing an instrument. Sometimes it can be fun when a customer orders a singing courier delivery and the whole neighbourhood ends up having a field day about it. One time we even witnessed a proposal, and that was very moving.
I wonder about your – and your artists‘ – mental state. How does everyone feel about the situation? They have families to support, and you still have to rehearse, how do you balance it all and how do you take care of your musicians?
Hundreds of freelance artists lost their jobs and livelihood. And it’s not only musicians, but also actors and other art-related professions, such as stage technicians, sound and lighting engineers, make-up artists, hairstylists and many others, who are absolutely essential for concerts or theatre performances as we know them.
Our couriers have flexible work schedules, allowing them to keep themselves in "good musical shape." Of course, if you’re suddenly forbidden to do what you have been working extremely hard for throughout your whole life, it’s bound to have an immense impact on your psyche.
A classical musician is used to practising for several hours a day from the age of six. During their studies, it’s often six to ten hours of practising every day. When we had standard rehearsals or were recording, we would easily work for twelve hours a day. Then suddenly, on March 12, 2020, the government tells you that it’s all over and you’re not allowed to do anything but sit and wait. The uncertain future has made many people around us depressed. They don’t know how they’ll be able to pay rent, buy food for their families and so on.
There are "geniuses" who love to advise us to do online concerts. But that's something that only state-subsidized orchestras and theatres, who keep receiving money straight from our taxes even at this time, can do. The cost of such a concert exceeds the income severely, and since we’ve never received any subsidies, we can’t afford that.
Tell our readers something about yourself and your orchestra, your accomplishments, with whom and where you have performed.
I studied violin and then conducting. I am the director of Bohemian Music Agency s.r.o. and chief conductor of the Bohemian Symphony Orchestra Prague (BSOP). Apart from giving regular concerts in the Smetana Hall of the Municipal House in Prague for most of the past decade, we have given concerts almost all over the world. I’d mention, for example, our monthly tour throughout Japan as well as a number of European tours (Spain, Italy, France, Germany, the Netherlands and more).
In addition to classical concerts, we also focus on collaboration with rock, pop and metal bands and artists. Those include Alice Cooper, Bonnie Tyler, Kim Wilde, Gianna Nanini, Joey Tempest (Europe), Steve Lukather a Boby Kimball (Toto), Rick Parfitt (Status Quo), Ian Gillan (Deep Purple), Dan McCafferty (Nazareth), Mick Box and Bernie Shaw (Uriah Heep) or the band Corvus Corax. Some of them we’ve accompanied to the Wacken Festival, which is one of the largest metal festivals in Europe, twice.
As for metal bands, we were the first orchestra to collaborate with the band Sabaton on the Rock in Vienna Festival or with Visions of Atlantis on the Bang Your Head Festival.
From the foreign pop scene, it was, for example, the Italian singer Max Gazzé or the German singer Helen Fischer. And from the "pop-classical music" scene it was Vanessa Mae, Sarah Brightman, The Tenors or José Carreras.
Regarding Czech pop music we have collaborated with Iveta Bartošová, Václav Noid Bárta, Markéta Konvičková, Gabriela Goldová or Xindl X. And when it comes to Czech classical musicians, we have worked with soprano Kateřina Kněžíková or with Václav Hudeček.