He is the author of numerous orchestral and chamber works, and of two widely-performed operas. Greek, first performed in 1988, is based on Steven Berkoff's adaptation of Oedipus the King to a modern setting. The Silver Tassie, first performed in 2000, is based on the play by Sean O'Casey. Other works include Three Screaming Popes (after the paintings by Francis Bacon) and Your Rockaby, a concerto for saxophone and orchestra.
In 1990, the post of Radcliffe Composer in Association with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra was created, and Turnage appointed.