Lyell Cresswell studied at Victoria University of Wellington, Toronto University (Commonwealth Scholarship), and the University of Aberdeen followed by further study at the Institute of Sonology, Utrecht (Dutch Government Bursary 1974-75) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Scottish Arts Council Bursary, 1982). From 1978-80 he was Music Organiser at Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff; from 1980-82 he was Forman Fellow in Composition at Edinburgh University; and from 1982-85 Cramb Fellow in Composition at Glasgow University. Since then he has been a full-time composer based in Edinburgh. He was artistic director of the ecat (Edinburgh Contemporary Arts Trust) "New Zealand, New Music" festivals in Edinburgh in 1998 and 2001.
Lyell Cresswell's music is widely performed and broadcast, and has been played at many festivals around the world including the Warsw Autumn, BBC Proms, Edinburgh Festival, St Magnus Festival, Musica Insieme - Bologna, Asian Music Festival - Tokyo, New Zealand International Festival of the Arts and so on... The numerous awards he has received include recommendations by the UNESCO International Rostrum of Composers, the Ian Whyte Award, the APRA Silver Scroll for his contribution to New Zealand music, a Scottish Arts Council Creative Scotland Award, an honorary D.Mus from Victoria University of Wellington, the inaugural Elgar Bursary, and the Sounz Contemporary Award for his Piano Concerto. In 2006–7 he was Creative New Zealand/New Zealand School of Music Composer in Residence.
Lyell Cresswell has written works in most genres: for orchestra, large and small ensembles, solo instruments, operas, choral music and works for solo voice, Large-scale works include: The Voice Inside (concerto for violin, soprano and orchestra - 2001), Of Smoke and Bickering Flame (concerto for chamber orchestra - 2002) Canterbury Rhymes (mezzo soprano and orchestra - 2006), Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (2010) Triple concerto (2012) The Clock Stops (song-cycle for baritone and orchestra - 2013).