Born in Timaru, in 1952, Michael Houstoun became interested in the piano when he was a small child and began lessons at the age of five. Under the tutelage of Sister Mary Eulalie in Timaru, and then Maurice Till in Christchurch and Dunedin, Michael moved through the examination grades and by the age of eighteen had won every major competition in New Zealand.
In 1973 he entered the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition where he placed third. Other international competition successes came in1975 at the Leeds Competition (fourth prize), and in 1982 at the Tchaikowsky Competition (sixth prize). Michael lived away from New Zealand from 1974 until 1981, and in this time studied with Rudolf Serkin at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia (1974/1975) and with Brigitte (‘Gigi') Wild in London (1978/1979). He performed in the USA, UK, Germany and Holland.
In 1981 Michael followed his heart back to New Zealand where he has continued to live and performs. He also performs in Australia, Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong. He plays from a large repertoire which stretches from JS Bach to the present day, including 40 concertos and chamber music. As a strong advocate of New Zealand music, works from Douglas Lilburn to John Psathas are regularly featured in his programmes.
During the 1990s he concentrated on the music of Beethoven, playing the complete sonatas in five cycles around New Zealand - Wellington, Auckland, Christchurch, Dunedin and Napier. He played the concerto cycle in New Zealand and Australia.
Michael won the Turnovsky Prize in 1982, and in 1999 received an honorary doctorate in literature from Massey University. In 1996 he collaborated with television producer Tainui Stephens on a documentary about Franz Liszt, Icon in b minor, and in 2005 was the subject of another documentary, Piano Man. He was a recipient of an Arts Foundation Laureate Award in 2007 and won Best Classical Album with Inland at the 2008 Vodafone Music Awards. In 2012 he was announced as a Companion of the Said Order (CNZM) in the Queen's Birthday Honours, for services as a pianist.
In 2013, he repeated his achievement from 20 years earlier of performing all 32 Beethoven piano sonatas.
Michael frequently adjudicates music competitions in New Zealand, and in 1998 was a juror at the Gina Bachauer International Piano Competition in Salt Lake City.
He is Patron of the Nelson School of Music, the Regent on Broadway theatre in Palmerston North, the Piano Tuners and Technicians Guild of New Zealand and the Kerikeri National Piano Competition.