“In a concert you have a little bit more freedom and flexibility to be yourself,” cellist Marius Urba tells me when I catch up with Berlin-based Trio Marvin, fresh from the group’s win at the Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition. “In a competition you have a very different feeling because people are sitting behind a table and writing down notes and in a concert maybe you can relax a little bit more and feel more comfortable.”

Four days after the Grand Finals in Melbourne, the Trio looks – and sounds –relaxed performing at the Independent Theatre in North Sydney as part of Musica Viva’s Coffee Concerts’ series.

Trio Marvin, MICMC, Melbourne International Chamber Music CompetitionTrio Marvin at the Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition. Photo © Michael Keating

The group is “still a little bit surprised and overwhelmed” when I speak to them ahead of the concert – and perhaps even a little bit shell-shocked after the high stakes week of competitive performance. “It was a really intense week because after each round we had to prepare the next round,” Urba says. “It was very good that there was a day off before every new round, so there was enough time to practise and rest a little bit. But now we feel how tired we are.”

“We almost didn’t see Melbourne,” says pianist Vita Kan.

“We rehearsed the whole time,” Urba agrees. “But we are really happy that our work was rewarded.”

Performing in Sydney, the Trio gives the audience a taste of the finely-honed musicianship that won them the Grand Prize. Paul Stanhope’s Pulses, one of two new works commissioned for the competition, sets a formidable bar, rewarding (or exposing) both technical virtuosity and musical imagination. Exploring ideas of pulse, both in terms of rhythm and the pulsing effect of different frequencies (there’s more than a hint of spectralism here), Stanhope’s piece veers from jagged, rhythmic gestures to a dream-like, lyrical middle section, which saw Urba’s burnished cello sound soaring over glistening piano, while Marina Grauman’s violin traced both fine delicate lines and lusher, resonant melodies.

The Trio has an easy rapport, the ensemble-work very organic for a group that’s only been playing together since 2016.

Trio Marvin began as a cello and piano duo between Urba and Kan, but after some competition and performance success, the pair “decided to make an upgrade to an ensemble which is more accepted in the concert world than a duo,” Urba explains.

Trio MarvinTrio Marvin

While the group formed in Leipzig and is now based in Berlin, Grauman is from Russia, Kan was born in Russia but grew up in Kazakhstan, while Urba was born in Lithuania and grew up in Germany. The group makes a feature of this cultural fusion, specialising particularly in the music of Soviet composers – such as Mieczysław Weinberg’s Opus 24 Piano Trio, which won them the MICMC final.

They’re also right at home in the core repertoire, however, and performing Schubert’s First Piano Trio in Sydney they demonstrated the precision imperative for competition success, but also a rich depth of sound and the kind of conversational musicality that makes good chamber music so compelling.

Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition, MICMC, Trio MarvinTrio Marvin: Cellist Marius Urba, pianist Vita Kan and violinist Marina Grauman. Photo © Michael Keating

Melbourne isn’t the Trio Marvin’s first competition success – they took out first prize at the Mendelssohn-Bartholdy Competition in Berlin last year – but the group is cognisant of the fact that winning competitions isn’t everything. “Success in competitions doesn’t mean that you will have a big career,” Urba says. “It’s only an opportunity to play for a big audience.”

But they’re excited about the touring opportunity (the Trio will tour Australia for Musica Viva in November 2019) and professional development support offered by MICMC. “Usually most of the competitions are over after the final, and that’s it,” Urba says. “It’s very important to have something coming after the competition.”

With the Sydney concert done – the explosive final bars of the Schubert sent a thrill through the audience – the Trio can enjoy a well-earned break – before they have to do it all again in September when they compete at the 2018 ARD Music Competition in Munich.

“We have a little bit of a vacation now in Australia,” says Urba. “And afterwards we are starting to prepare for our next competition.”

Limelight, Australia's Classical Music and Arts Magazine