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Zen-On Releases New Publications of Works by Akira Nishimura, Julian Yu, Toshiro Mayuzumi, and Hiroaki Takaha

Jun. 26, 2022

Zen-On has released exciting new publications of works by Akira Nishimura, Julian Yu, Toshiro Mayuzumi, and Hiroaki Takaha.

Akira Nishimura's Kakaisekai, for orchestra, was commissioned by the NHK Symphony Orchestra and awarded the 69th Otaka Prize. The world premiere performance was presented by the NHK Symphony Orchestra and led by Yoichi Sugiyama at "Music Tomorrow 2021" on June 22, 2021, at Tokyo Opera City. Kakaisekai will be performed again by the NHK Symphony Orchestra, led by Ilan Volkov on July 1 as part of the Otaka Prize ceremony at "Music Tomorrow 2022". The composer describes his work:

"Just as flower buds open up into blooms when the time is ripe, so the world comes into resplendent bloom at each instant in the dizzying, never-ending process of birth that takes place within the space-time continuum enveloping human life. This is an image conveyed by the adage kakai-sekaiki (literally ‘the opening of flowers is the occurrence of the world’) quoted by the 13th-century Japanese Zen master Dōgen to express the oneness of phenomena and reality.

Although this image may not be entirely in keeping with Dōgen’s intended meaning, it channels light, joy and contentment into the human spirit as we confront the loneliness of the human condition in the face of life and death. In this particular work, I have striven to give expression to my own subjective interpretation of kakai-sekaiki in the form of a work for orchestra.

The orchestration includes a group of eight players comprising five percussionists and players of the celesta, piano and harp. The percussion instruments are mainly metallic and include vibraphone, tubular bells, glockenspiel, antique cymbals, suspended cymbals and tam-tam.

This group represents the world as it continues to blossom, but at the same time, it portrays the flow of water as the agent for the world’s blossoming as well as phenomena such as light, air and wind. It symbolizes the fount of the world and assumes a variety of forms in the course of the work: static, dynamic, undulating and oscillating in trills. Distinctive sonic worlds formed by winds and strings emerge in succession from out of this fluid matrix, including abstract sound worlds incorporating harmonics and microtones, representational sound worlds accompanied by melody, and worlds formed by pulses and tremolos. Various modes are also incorporated with the aim of adding colour to the linked sound worlds as they appear in succession.

The work begins with an undulating sonic texture created by the group of eight players and chords on the strings consisting of harmonics. At the final stage of the work, the cellos and double basses play a continuous low D and the violas a G#, while the violins are hoisted ever further up into the stratospheric pitch range to fade away into nothingness."

Akira Nishimura's Amrita for solo viola has also been published by Zen-On. Nishimura notes: 

"I composed this work as a set piece for the 2022 5th Tokyo International Viola Competition.It takes its title from the Sanskrit word meaning 'immortality', a word which here refers specifically to the elixir of life in Hindu mythology: a nectar created by churning the Ocean of Milk (samudra manthan) for a thousand years. The work is a kind of capriccio inspired in particular by the comical tale of the struggle between the Devas, the heavenly deities, and the Asuras, the malevolent demigods, to acquire this nectar.

Although the piece does not strive to portray this tale in a literal sense, it should be performed in a dramatic and dynamic manner."

(Contestants perform Akira Nishimura's Amrita alongside other works at 
The 5th Tokyo International Viola Competition)

Another recent publication, Julian Yu's Symphonic Variations on a Theme of Paganini, has been released by Zen-On. The Queensland Orchestra led by Michael Christie, premiered the work on November 3, 2006, at the City Hall Auditorium, Brisbane, Australia. Julian Yu describes this work and the process that led to its creation:

"This piece came to be written as a result of a long evolutionary process. It all started back in 1994, when the Australia Ensemble obtained funding from the Australia Council to commission me to write a work for flute, clarinet and string quartet. I enthusiastically started on a work based on strict ostinato, and it was going well until, just before completion, I decided that it would be better scored for full orchestra, and it became my orchestral work Passacaglissima. As a result, I had to start again looking for ideas for the Australia Ensemble.

Starting a new piece is normally the hardest part of the composition process. Time was running out when one day I saw a record cover which featured a family tree diagram showing the offspring from Paganini's famous Caprice no. 24 in A minor, the last of his Caprices for Solo Violin, op. 1. I could not believe that so many composers had tried their hand at this particular theme and set of variations. In the classical branch alone, this includes Liszt, Schumann, Brahms, Rachmaninov and, from more modern times, Lutoslavsky and Ichiyanagi, among others.

Why this piece? Niccolò Paganini, a violinist and composer born in Italy in 1782, is possibly the most famous virtuoso to have performed before recorded sound, and he transformed attitudes towards what it was possible to play on the violin. His technique was such that he influenced many musicians to try and do for other instruments what he did for the violin. Much of the success of his Theme and Variations was because of the multitude of different arrangements that were made and disseminated to the enthusiastic Viennese public at the time, which enabled the piece to gain a popularity that has endured to the present day.

I was inspired to have a go at it myself, utilizing one of my usual methods of composition: embellishment as it is used in traditional Chinese folk music. An original melody is embellished, then the embellishment becomes the starting point and is embellished once again, and so on and on from generation to generation until the original source is unrecognizable. I chose as the starting point a version of the Theme and Variations that was already second generation: that of Brahms, from Books I and II of his Variations on a Theme of Paganini, and I worked on it until it became a new piece. I did not strictly follow the order of the Brahms original, and there are some omissions: altogether my resultant chamber work consists of a theme and eleven variations. Listening repeatedly to my chamber version, I was inspired once again to imagine how much more could be achieved with a full orchestra. Opportunity came in the form of a timely commission from The Queensland Orchestra in 2005, funded by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Whereas my chamber version had been mainly contrapuntal in nature, this time I chose just the theme and four of the Brahms variations (five movements in all) and expanded them, concentrating on orchestral textures and effects. To each of the four variations I gave a title which reflects the mood or atmosphere of the music.

The first movement, the Theme, is really a variation in itself. Although still clearly recognizable, it is now heavily rhythmic in nature, using hocket, fleeting octave jumps, pizzicato, timbre changes and, in the latter half, a variety of pitchless percussive effects. In view of these changes, at the premiere performance, the concertmaster thought it necessary to begin with Paganini’s unadulterated theme on solo violin, to remind the audience what it actually sounded like! The first variation, "The Road to the Great Ocean", features immense tone waves in the strings and woodwinds. The second variation, "Fairy Tale", uses the transparent sounds of the harp and glockenspiel to create a descriptive, playful and naive atmosphere reminiscent of childhood bedtime stories. The third variation, "Walking in Paradise", uses artificial delay and reverberation techniques to enhance an enchanting melody played by the English horn or trumpet, while birdcalls are heard in the background. The last variation, "Finale", engages the whole orchestra in pointillistic effects, fleeting octave jumps and timbre changes in the heavily ornamented theme to convey a joyful, carnival atmosphere, bustling with energy. For the most part there are no harmonies: the solo violin plays only the rhythm of Paganini's famous theme to a pentatonic melody, accompanied by unison in the double bass and cellos.

Two works by Toshiro Mayuzumi have been added to Zen-On’s rental catalog. Both composed in 1981, March “Sokoku" (1981) was commissioned by the Japan Ground Self Defense Force Central Band.

(March "Sokoku"/Toshiro Mayuzumi/Ground Self-Defense Force Central Music Corps)

March "Reimei" was commissioned by the National Defense Academy.

(March "Reimei"/Toshiro Mayuzumi/Japan Ground Self-Defense Force Eastern Army Band)

Hiroaki Takaha's Gamma Correction for two instruments was premiered by Go Mochizuki (mandolin) and Gaku Yamada (guitar) on November 30, 2021 at the Tokyo Bunka Kaikan Small Hall in Tokyo at the 27th annual concert of Groupe des Quatre et ses ami(e)s sponsored by Zen-On Music Co., Ltd.. Hiroaki Takaha notes: 

"There are no restrictions on the choice of instruments. The piece may be performed in a transposed version of the full score. Instrumental combinations should ideally include similar instruments with different characteristics. If the same instruments are to be used, efforts should be made to bring out differences in tone color between the individual instruments.

Performers are free to select dynamics and nuances and vary them in the course of the piece. Tempo is envisaged as falling within the specified range but may be gradually varied as the performance progresses. Several revisions have been made for the present publication.

...The title Gamma Correction refers to the manner in which the brightness of images is corrected when they appear on a screen. The idea for the piece came from the way that the degree of brightness changes little by little as it is being corrected, and I attempted to realize this idea through the interplay between two instruments. The mandolin and the guitar are both stringed instruments with a delicate tone whose attraction lies in the manner in which they generate a sound that hints at the very origins of sound production. However, the two instruments differ in that whereas the mandolin employs courses of doubled strings tuned in unison, the guitar uses single strings. Following the passage of sound while observing these tonal differences between the two instruments, I found that the way I was focusing on sound was changing and had progressed far from the point of departure. It was in this frame of mind that I began working on the piece, which allows for performance by combinations of instruments other than just mandolin and guitar...."

(Go Mochizuki and Gaku Yamada perform Hiroaki Takaha's Gamma Correction)

To learn more about Akira Nishimura, Julian Yu, Toshiro Mayuzumi, and Hiroaki Takaha, visit:

Akira Nishimura
for orchestra
3(; 3.pic).3.3.3-
Commissioned by NHK Symphony Orchestra and awarded the 69th Otaka Prize
View sample pages:

for solo viola
Commissioned by Tokyo International Viola Competition
View sample pages:

Julian Yu

Symphonic Variations on a Theme of Paganini (2006)
for orchestra
2(1.pic)+pic.2+eh.2+bcl.1-4.2.2+btbn.1-timp.perc-hp-str, vln solo
View sample pages:

Toshiro Mayuzumi
March "Sokoku" (1981)

March "Reimei" (1981)

Hiroki Takaha
Gamma Correction
for two instruments
ca. 8.5-11'
View sample pages: