Kjell Flem (1943) was born in Ålesund, and studied for his cantor degree at the Music Conservatories in Oslo and Bergen. After his début as organist in 1968, he was awarded a state grant for further studies at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, Finland, where he studied organ under Enzio Forsblom and composition under Einar Englund and Einojuhani Rautavaara. He later received a scholarship from St.Olaf College, Minnesota and Northern Illinois University in the United States of America, where he completed his Bachelor of Music degree and Master of Music degrees in theory and composition. An active performer, several of Flem's organ concerts have been broadcast in Norway, Finland and the U.S.A.
From 1986 to 1987, having been awarded a grant from the Japan Foundation, Flem resided in Japan, doing research on contemporary Japanese music. In addition to his research he studied composition under Akira Miyoshi, one of the most prominent Japanese composers and President of the well-known Music Academy, Toho Gakuen School of Music in Tokyo.
Flem started composing his first work for orchestra, Ultima Thule, the Latin for Arctic Regions in Finland in 1969, and completed it later in the USA. Ultima Thule unfolds in a series of images inspired by the vast geographical and climatic contrasts of the Arctic regions, expressed through the composer's experimentation with varying timbral combinations. The work, dedicated to Einar Englund, was first performed on Norwegian Broadcasting with The Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra in 1986.
Kjell Flem has also written works for percussion. Haiku Sounds, consisting of 15 Japanese Haiku poems and written for three percussionists, piano, tape and recitateur, has been performed in Norway, Sweden and Japan. Metal Structures, for two pianos, was first performed by Eva Knardahl and Einar Steen-Nøkleberg in 1984, and the following year by the renowned pianists Roberto Szidon and Richard Metzler at the Mobile Contemporale Festival in Salzburg, Austria. The work has since been performed in the USA and Japan and has been recorded by the pianists Jan Hovden and Jarle Rotevatn.
Dances for bass-marimba commissioned by the French percussionist Pascal Zavaro and Radio France had its premiere in Paris in 1988. His piano concerto, commissioned by the pianist Håkon Austbø and Ny Musikk (The Norwegian section of ISCM), was first performed in Bergen in 1992 and received critical acclaim. It is recorded by The St. Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra, “Klassika” by the pianist Sergey Ouryvaev and conducted by Alexander Kantorov. Flem’s work for strings, Solar Wind, was premiered in Bergen in 1991, by the BIT 20 Ensemble. It is recorded by The St. Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra, “Klassika” conducted by Alexander Kantorov, who also performed the piece at concert in St. Petersburg in January 2000.
Natten, for 8-voiced choir, commissioned by the ULTIMA festival, had its premiere during the festival in 1995.
Jubilus for Organ was comissioned by the Bergen Cathedral for the inauguration of the new organ of the cathedral in 1997. It has later been played in Stockholm at the Nordic Music Days in 1998 and at the Ultima Festival in Oslo in 1999 and other Norwegian cities.
Kjell Flem was Vice-President of Ny Musikk, and chairman of it’s Bergen section. He has also been active as a music critic for Sunnmørsposten, Sunnmøre Arbeideravis, Bergens Arbeiderblad and Bergens Tidende. He has worked as compère for the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra and written commentary for their concert programs. In addition to his work as a composer, Flem is employed in the Music Department of the Fagerlia secondary school in Ålesund.