John Peterson was born in Wollongong, NSW, in 1957 and studied composition at the University of Sydney under the guidance of Ross Edwards, Eric Gross and Peter Sculthorpe. He has Bachelor of Music (1990) and Master of Music (1994) degrees, and completed a PhD in Composition in 2003.

As a composer, John Peterson has written chamber music for many ensembles including The Contemporary Singers, Sydney Mandolins, The Seymour Group, the Coruscations Ensemble, the Caringbah HS New Music Group, the Shostakovich String Quartet, and the Halcyon vocal ensemble, but his primary compositional focus is on writing music for the orchestra. John's orchestral works have been performed and/or recorded by the Armidale Youth Orchestra, Queensland Philharmonic Orchestra, Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, the West Australian Symphony Orchestra, Sydney Youth Orchestra, Auckland Philharmonia, New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales.

In 1992, Peterson was a finalist in the Jean Bogan Prize for Piano Composition; and in 1995, and again in 2000, he was a finalist in the Corbould Orchestral Composition Competition. On two occasions, in 1997 and in 2001, he has been shortlisted for "Masterprize", an international competition run jointly by BBC Music Magazine and the London Symphony Orchestra. The orchestral works selected for this competition, Rituals in Transfigured Time (1997) and Illawarra Music (2001), were recorded and subsequently broadcast on BBC Radio 3 in the U.K. and in Europe, and on ABC Classic FM throughout Australia.

John's music generally reflects his interest in tonal idioms, as well as the energy and rhythmic propulsion inherent in many popular music styles. A typical work of this type is Shadows and Light, a large-scale composition for SATB symphonic chorus, SATB semi-chorus, soprano and tenor soloists, string orchestra and percussion; this work was premiered by Sydney Philharmonia in November 2004.

In 2005, John was the winner of the prestigious Albert H. Maggs Composition Award.

John Peterson is currently Lecturer in Composition in the School of Music and Music Education at the University of New South Wales.