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Composer Mark-Anthony Turnage combines his twin loves of music and football in his new score Up for Grabs, premiered at the Barbican in London on 5 November. Turnage recently received the prestigious Ivors Classical Music Award for his unique and genre-crossing approach to composition.

Mark-Anthony Turnage’s new work Up for Grabs celebrates a historic Arsenal victory over Liverpool, combining the composer’s loves of football and music. The new score is premiered at the Barbican in London on 5 November with the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Ryan Bancroft and a trio of jazz stars: guitarist John Parricelli (Loose Tubes), drummer Peter Erskine (Weather Report) and bass guitarist Laurence Cottle.

Originally commissioned by the Barbican Centre to be premiered alongside the UEFA European Championship this summer, Up for Grabs is the latest and most overt Turnage work to reference the glorious game. His 1991 work Momentum quotes the ‘Olé, Olé, Olé’ chant, and his 1999 opera The Silver Tassie, based on a play by Sean O’Casey, draws its name from the football cup won by the lead character before he sustains terrible injuries in the First World War.

The 25-minute score for Up for Grabs is presented at the Barbican with thrilling film highlights from the final day of the 1989 football season. The title refers to Brian Moore’s iconic commentary when Arsenal equalised, “…it’s all up for grabs now…”, after which the team seized victory against the odds in the last seconds to win the league title. Turnage, as a life-long Gooner, supplies the musical alternative to the TV commentary, capturing the intense rollercoaster of highs, lows, desperation, and elation every sports fan lives and breathes. As well as charting the match, the composer weaves in chants from the Arsenal supporters and uses musical cryptograms of the players’ names to create much of the work’s material.

Mark-Anthony Turnage, who was recently invited as a guest on BBC1’s Football Focus, is joined on the Barbican stage by a panel of footballers and pundits to discuss the score and relive the event, including Lee Dixon and members of Arsenal’s 1989 title-winners. Not only does the project fulfil a personal fantasy for Turnage to share the stage with his sporting heroes but, as he says, “two of the favourite things in my life are football and orchestral music, so this is like a dream job for me. It was a joy to write this piece”.

> Listen to Turnage on BBC Radio 4's Front Row
> Read The Guardian on Up for Grabs
> Tickets from the Barbican website

At the 2021 Ivor Novello Awards ceremony in London Mark-Anthony Turnage received the prestigious Ivors Classical Music Award for his unique and experimental approach to composition. The event at the Grosvenor Hotel was hosted by the Ivors Academy, the UK’s only dedicated community for songwriters and composers, in partnership with Apple Music and PRS for Music. Turnage was presented with the award by Turner Prize-winning artist Mark Wallinger, who first collaborated with the composer in 2011 on the dancework Undance, choreographed by Wayne McGregor.

The Ivors programme described how “Turnage once described his approach to music-making by declaring ‘I always want to do something different’. And rarely can a classical musician have been truer to their word. Because, from the moment he started experimenting with composition aged nine, right up to 2021, Turnage has brought a truly unique approach to the classical realm. And now, his storied, singular career arrives at this hugely-deserved Ivors win. As for what comes next, you can be sure of one thing: it will be anything but ordinary…”

>  Further information on Work: Up for Grabs

Photo: Philip Gatward

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