Board of Directors
Kathie Sollers, Chair
Kathie was raised outside Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 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. Kathie was president of the Parents Association and was on the board of directors for eight years, during which she was chair of both the committee on trustees and the personnel committee.
Music has been a part of Kathie's life since she took piano lessons as a child and sang in the church junior choir. About a decade ago, she began lessons in classical piano 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.
Giorgio Sorani, Vice Chair
Giorgio Sorani was born in Rome, Italy. His mother was a pianist who tried to get him to learn to play the piano—with no success. Nevertheless he was very well exposed to classical music from an early age.
After graduating from the University of Rome, Giorgio came to the United States with a Fulbright scholarship to do graduate work; he graduated from the University of Illinois with an MA in mathematics and an MS in civil engineering. Later he completed an MBA from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.
Giorgio then embarked on a career in strategic planning and information technology that led to senior management positions with large multinational companies in the United States, Europe, and Asia.
Now retired, Giorgio lives in San Francisco with his wife, Shelley, who is very active with the Asian Art Museum. Shelley and Giorgio enjoy travel, good food, and the wonderfully diverse art offerings of San Francisco—while taking every opportunity to play with (and spoil) their two granddaughters.
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. He is an accomplished jazz piano player and a life member of the Musicians Union, and he has played in many San Francisco venues over the years.
Frederick J. Isaac, Secretary
Fred Isaac is a writer and librarian living in Berkeley. During his professional career he worked in academic libraries for over 20 years. Since the mid-1990s he has been a Judaica library consultant. He is the author of Jews of Oakland and Berkeley (Arcadia, 2009) and A Road of our Own Choosing (Union for Reform Judaism Press, 2011).
Fred has a lifelong interest in the arts. He grew up in New York, and recalls visiting museums and Broadway musicals from the age of 10. He has an extensive collection of Playbills dating from 1962. He has a longstanding subscription to the San Francisco Ballet, and he has regularly attended concerts covering a wide range of musical tastes.
He currently serves on the Council of the Association of Jewish Libraries, and is the endowment chair for the Popular Culture Association.
As the daughter of the SFCO's founding director, Naomi Braun grew up attending almost all of the orchestra's concerts. She has performed numerous tasks with the orchestra 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 her BA in music from UC Davis where she was the assistant director of the University chorus and conducted a 14-voice mixed ensemble. She has taught music in elementary schools in San Francisco and Berkeley, and she conducts with the Piedmont Children's Choirs. Naomi currently 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 sung 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.
Ken Hoffman was the founder and CEO of Wallpapers to Go, which under his leadership grew to a chain of 98 stores, becoming the largest wallpaper retailer in the United States. Ken then had a successful 22-year career in commercial real estate, specializing in retail consulting, site selection, and leasing. He maintains a limited consulting practice in that field.
Ken is a passionate music lover, an affinity shared with his wife, Jan, with whom he can be seen often in Bay Area concert halls. Being a big fan of the SFCO, Ken especially enjoys the adventurous programs of Maestro Simon. A published poet and an avid photographer, he is currently refining his photography skills at SFSU. Ken also volunteers at SCORE, counseling entrepreneurs of new businesses.
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 non-profit boards raising money for children’s education in 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.
Sherri Richards is a broadcast journalist, who began her career with ABC News, New York. As investigative reporter and producer for Granada TV and the BBC, she contributed to 75 television programs. She also produced and hosted women's current affairs radio programs. In the Bay Area, she served as the Magnes Museum’s director of traveling exhibitions, and later became assistant director of the American Society for Technion.
Music and dance have moved her since childhood, when she played violin by age five, tap-danced at age seven, studied ballet by age nine, and struggled with piano scales so she could attempt her favorite Chopin. A member of the Temple Sinai choir, Sherri believes that singing, playing, or hearing music has the transformative ability to foster peace and harmony in the world. She loves the SFCO’s mission: to offer great music for everyone, that is fun, fresh, first-rate and free!
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 sound tracks 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 San Francisco Chamber Orchestra, and in the same year 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 on the SFCO’s chamber music series, Classical at the Freight, in Berkeley and around the Bay Area with various friends and colleagues.
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 San Francisco and Palo Alto, Robin teaches violin at Stanford and UC Berkeley, and she 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.
Justin Simon, M.D.; Chair Emeritus
Justin joined the SFCO board in 2002, when Ben became music director. He served as board chair in 2008 and 2009. Justin is a music-loving, Distinguished Life Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association in private practice of psychoanalysis and psychiatry in Berkeley.