Roland Pöntinen was born in Danderyd, Sweden, in 1963. His first advanced studies were at the Stockholm (Adolf Fredrik) Music High School, with Gunnar Hallhagen. Pöntinen had later studies at the Banff Centre for Fine Arts in Canada, with Menahem Pressler and György Sebök. He also studied privately with Elisabeth Leonskaja in Vienna.
Pöntinen made his debut as soloist in 1980 with the Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra. He formed a jazz group the following year and wrote several compositions for performance with them, the scoring typically involving piano, percussion, bass, strings, and saxophones.
Pöntinen made his first recording for BIS in 1983 (issued in January 1984), Roland Pöntinen Plays Russian Piano Music, which included works by Prokofiev, Stravinsky, and Rachmaninov. He continued to steadily build his career on all fronts, and by 1990 he had made 20 recordings for BIS alone. In 1998 Pöntinen's work Blue Winter (1987), for trombone and strings, was premiered in Philadelphia and then given a critically acclaimed Carnegie Hall performance a few weeks later. In 2001 Pöntinen was given one of Sweden's most prestigious arts awards, the Litteris et Artibus medal. Among Pöntinen's later recordings is the 2010 BIS CD of Brahms cello sonatas, with cellist Torleif Thedéen.