Kjell Habbestad was born on the 13th April 1955 in the town of Bremnes in Sunnhordland. From 1975-79 he studied Church Music at the Norwegian State Academy og Music, and had amongst his teachers Magne Elvestrand. In 1981 he graduated from the Academy with a degree in composition after studies with Finn Mortensen, Olav Anton Thommessen and Lasse Thoresen.
Habbestad was organist at Snarøya church in Bærum from 1977 to 1981, and in Langhus church from 1986 to 1987. From 1981 he lectured on musical theory at the Bergen Conservatory of Music. In 1986 he was appointed associate professor at the Conservatory of Music, Oslo College, and from 1996 he has the same position at the Norwegian State Academy of Music. In 1978, in his debut as composer, Habbestad was awarded first prize in the TONO composer's competition for his choral work Magnificat. Three years later the work Jubal was awarded first prize in a competition in connection with the inauguration of the new organ i Borgund church, Ålesund.
His hitherto largest works are the oratorio Ei Natt på Jorda (HCD 2911), the opera Hans Egedes Natt (Festival in Northern Norway 1995) and the opera The Maid of Norway (Cultural City of Bergen 2000), all of the with texts of Paal-Helge Haugen.
Since 1983 Mostraspelet, a historical drama concerning the Christian Kings at Moster, has been performed at the open-air theatre in Bømlo. Habbestad wrote an orchestral suite for this work, Mostrasuite (HCD 2911). A work of lesser format is "Orpheus", for piano, flute and dances, inspired by seven poems by Henrik Ibsen.
Other works which may be mentioned are a string-quartet, the ambitious piano piece Hammerklaveret, Munchsuite: Concerto for flute and Symphony Orchestra, Ave Maria: Concerto for Organ and Strings, Etwas neues unter der Sonnen: Concerto for hardanger fiddle and symphonic band, Un reve norvégien: Concerto for saxophone and symphonic band, the organ work Introduction & Passacaglia on two themes by Fartein Valen and 14 Ibsen Songs for baritone and piano.
In addition sacred vocal music, choral works, cantatas and chamber music are sentral in Habbestad’s work list. Of special interst are his oriatorios or “liturgical dramas” such as Jubal, Jabal”, Kar og kjerring, Noahs draum (GRCD 4156), Mysteriet (texts by Arnold Eidslott) and Angeli, 18 pictures of angels” (IDACD 3). Of major choral works could be mentioned 3 Cantica (Magnificat, Nunc Dimittis and Benedictus Dominus), Nox Praecessit (ACD 5022), Stabat Mater dolorosa for male quartet and male choir, Ego Clamavi, Apal, Kverni and Sju vindar to poems by Olav H. Hauge, and app. 90 motets for the various Sundays of the ecclasiastical year.
Kjell Habbestad has also been active as a writer and editor. In 1989 Verbum published his Cantate, a reference work for sacred choral music. In connection with the 75th anniversary of the Norwegian Composers Society, Habbestad was editor for the books Themes, Tendencies and Talents. 25 years of Norwegian contemporary music, and Arrangements, Arenas and Actors in Norwegian contemporary music. In 1996 and 97 he was the editor of the composers society yearbooks for contemporary music.
Kjell Habbestad was elected member of the Norwegian Composers Society in 1981. In the period 1987-1996 he was member of the board of directors, 1990-96 as vice president. From 1996-2002 he was the chairman of the society’s advicery board. He is now member of the jury of TONO - the Norwegian Performing Rights Society.