Board of Directors
Naomi Braun Chair
Brian Goler Vice Chair
John R. Houghton Treasurer
Hanna Tikkanen Merk
Robin Sharp Concertmaster
Benjamin Simon Music Director
Justin Simon, M.D. Chair Emeritus
Kathie Sollers Chair Emerita
Naomi Braun, Chair
As the daughter of the SFCO’s founding director, Naomi Braun grew up attending nearly all of the orchestra’s performances. She has filled numerous roles within the organization, including stage manager, librarian, usher, cellist, and percussionist. When she was invited to join the board in 2005, she accepted in order to preserve the vision of her father, Edgar Braun.
Naomi earned a BA in music from UC Davis, where she was assistant director of the University Chorus and conducted a 14-voice mixed ensemble. She has taught music in elementary schools in both San Francisco and Berkeley, and she serves as Kinder & Training Department Director for Piedmont East Bay Children’s Choir.
Naomi is the alto section leader at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in San Francisco and sings with Volti (formerly the San Francisco Chamber Singers). She has also performed with Philharmonia Baroque Chorale, George Coates Performance Works, San Francisco Children’s Opera, Berkeley Opera, the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra, Pocket Opera, American Bach Soloists, and the San Francisco Opera Chorus.
Brian Goler, Vice Chair
Steve came to California in 1979 after graduating from Vanderbilt University, where he studied electrical engineering. He completed a master’s degree at Stanford and had a 22-year career in the semiconductor industry. In 2001, Steve retired to stay at home and raise his two daughters. His girls are budding violinists, as well as hard-working students. Steve enjoys helping them along their grand adventure through childhood.
Steve has served on multiple nonprofit boards raising money for children’s education within his local community. For many years he also served on the board of the Half the Sky Foundation, an organization that establishes schools within the state-run orphanages of China.
Steve enjoys opera, reading, continuing studies at Stanford, trying to speak Japanese, and playing golf.
John R. Houghton, Treasurer
John Houghton is a CPA of over thirty years with his own tax and accounting practice in Redwood City. His office prepares tax returns for many nonprofits; he himself serves on four different nonprofit boards, offering financial and business advice.
John has always felt a love for music and the arts. An accomplished jazz pianist and lifetime member of the Musicians Union, he has performed in numerous San Francisco venues over the years.
Hanna Tikkanen Merk
Hanna is originally from Finland where she enjoyed not only one of the most heralded educational systems in the world, but also the strong and broad music instruction provided by a network of state-supported music schools. After graduating from Brown University, where she studied engineering and economics, Hanna worked on Wall Street, as well as in London, in investment banking. She completed her MBA at INSEAD, France, before spending several years working at the management consultancy firm Bain & Company, in several European countries.
In 2001, Hanna and her husband Axel Merk decided to move to Palo Alto to raise their family and to grow their own business, Merk Investments. In addition to the active parenting of four wonderful children, Hanna spends her energy on supporting non-profits in the fields of education and music. She is president emerita of the German-American International School and currently teaches at the Finnish School of Silicon Valley. She is an avid equestrian and enjoys the outdoors, as well as music, literature, debating with her clever kids in multiple languages, and continuing studies at Stanford.
Raaj Narayan grew up in Boston, Massachusetts, where he was quite active as a classically trained violinist. In Boston, he played in the New England Conservatory youth orchestras and the Greater Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra, which awarded him the opportunity to perform in some of Boston’s seminal concert venues and tour internationally. Raaj went on to receive his BA in Political Science from Yale University and his JD from Stanford Law School. During his time at Yale, he was a violinist in the Berkeley College Orchestra.
Raaj is an attorney at the law firm Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, where he advises on mergers, acquisitions, financings, corporate governance, and securities laws matters for public and private companies. In his free time, he enjoys the arts, golf, skiing, and traveling.
Robin Sharp, Concertmaster
Violinist Robin Sharp is in demand as a solo performer, chamber musician, concertmaster, and teacher. In addition to maintaining private teaching studios in both San Francisco and Palo Alto, Robin teaches violin at Stanford and UC Berkeley and is on the faculty of California Summer Music. Robin has appeared in recital at many prestigious venues, including Carnegie Hall in New York, the Musikverein in Vienna, the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, the National Music Hall in Taipei, and the Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco, where she performed on Jascha Heifetz’s del Gesù violin.
A Bay Area native, Vanna grew up playing the violin and piano. She earned a BA in International Relations with a Minor in Sociology from UC Davis. Currently, she is the Director of Human Resources at Triage Consulting Group, a healthcare consulting firm based in San Francisco. She oversees all HR functions, where she coaches and develops management teams, creates employee engagement strategies, designs compensation and benefits plans, and drives solutions for people success. She holds the professional designation of Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR). For several years, she served on the board of the California Child Care Resource & Referral Network.
Vanna enjoys attending Giants games and her sons’ little league games. During her work sabbatical, she and her husband visited every MLB park.
Benjamin Simon, Music Director
Ben has performed for audiences around the world as violist of the Naumburg Award-winning New World String Quartet, the Stanford String Quartet, the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, and the Los Angeles and New York Philharmonic Orchestras.
A native of San Francisco, Ben began his conducting studies in the Bay Area with Denis DeCouteau, continuing at Yale College and the Juilliard School with Otto Werner Mueller and at the Aspen Music Festival with Dennis Russell Davies. Ben has led orchestras and contemporary ensembles in the United States and Europe, and conducted performances for the theater as well as soundtracks for major motion pictures. He has taught at Harvard and Stanford Universities and has been a member of the music faculty at UC Berkeley since 1998.
Ben served as director of the Crowden School in Berkeley from 1999 to 2002, where he founded the popular chamber music series Sundays at Four. In 2002, he succeeded founding music director Edgar Braun at the SFCO, and in the same year he was appointed music director of the award-winning youth ensemble, the Palo Alto Chamber Orchestra. Although conducting takes the lion’s share of Ben’s time and energy, he can still be heard violing on the SFCO’s Classical at the Freight chamber music series in Berkeley and around the Bay Area with various friends and colleagues.
Justin Simon, M.D.; Chair Emeritus
Justin joined the SFCO board in 2002 when Ben was appointed music director. He served as board chair in 2008 and 2009. Justin is a music-loving Distinguished Life Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association, and maintains a private practice of psychoanalysis and psychiatry in Berkeley.
Kathie Sollers, Chair Emerita
Kathie was raised outside Philadelphia and has a BA in american studies from the University of Pennsylvania. She has lived in San Francisco since 1975. Kathie worked in the accounting department at Stone & Youngberg, an investment banking firm, until the early 1980s when she left to raise the first of her two daughters.
Kathie has been an active volunteer at the Hamlin School in San Francisco, both as a parent and as a board member, and has served in several leadership positions within the School. Kathie was president of the Parents Association and was on the board of directors for eight years, during which time she was chair of both the committee on trustees and the personnel committee.
Music has been a part of Kathie’s life since childhood, when she took piano lessons and sang in the church junior choir. About a decade ago, she began lessons in classical piano once again, encouraged by her children’s teacher. She is currently part of a group of adults who gather twice a year to play for each other. Apart from listening to all types of music, Kathie also loves to ski, play tennis, and read.