Born in Geneva in 1958, Michael Jarrell studied composition at the Geneva Conservatory with Eric Gaudibert and at various workshops in the United States (Tanglewood, 1979). He completed his training with Klaus Huber at the Freiburg Staatliche Hochschule für Musik im Brisgau. Between 1986 and 1988, he was in residence at the Cité des Arts in Paris and took part in the computer music course at Ircam. He resided at the Villa Médicis in Rome during 1988-89, and then joined the Istituto Svizzero di Roma in 1989-90. From October 1991 to June 1993, he was composer in residence with the Orchestre de Lyon. Michael Jarrell was named composer in residence of the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande for 2023-24 season.
Starting in 1982, his works have received numerous prizes such as prix Acanthes (1983), Beethovenpreis from the city of Bonn (1986), Marescotti prize (1986), Gaudeamus (1988), Henriette Renié (1988), Siemens-Förderungspreis (1990) and Musikpreis der Stadt Wien (2010). In 2021, Michael Jarrell received the Music Composition Prize from the Prince Pierre de Monaco Foundation for his piece 4 Eindrücke.
Beginning in 1993, he became professor of composition at the University in Vienna. In 1996, he was composer in residence at the Lucerne festival, and then was heralded by the Musica Nova Helsinki Festival, which dedicated the festival to him in 2000. In 2001, the Salzburg Festival commissioned a concerto for piano and orchestra entitled Abschied. The same year, he was named Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres. In 2004, he was named professor of composition at the Geneva Conservatory.