I like the word ‘play’ in reference to playing music, and we sometimes miss that aspect because it is also hard work to get a piece performance ready.

One memorable performance for me was given by Italian guitarist Carlo Barone, playing a nineteenth-century guitar in a work conducted by Adrian Walter at the Darwin International Guitar Festival (2002). After a blisteringly fast descending line that ran from the upper positions all the way down the neck, Walter and the orchestra were interrupted before conducting the next down beat: Barone held up his hand, signalling, begging Walter to stop (as if he was exhausted by the preceding line!).

Christopher Sainsbury

The audience laughed, then Walter – seeing Barone’s perspiration and responding to the audience –  pulled a handkerchief from his top pocket and wiped the brow of the soloist in acknowledgement of his hard yakka. The audience cracked up while Barone and Walter moved ahead to the next down beat with a sense of reinvigoration. The stop signal, the begging, the wiping of the brow, the smiles and interplay between them was all improvised in a few seconds.

They were comfortable...