Peter Weiss, the celebrated Sydney businessman, philanthropist and arts patron, has died at the age of 84. Recently diagnosed with lung cancer, he had dealt with chronic obstructive lung disease for the past decade.
Born in Vienna in 1935, Weiss fled the city with his family for Australia in 1939. He enjoyed a musical upbringing and played the cello as a child, going on to study at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. He played with the Australian Youth Orchestra and pursued further musical studies in Europe. He founded his eponymous fashion line in 1975 with his first wife, Adele, and by the 1980s owned more than 40 stores around the country. Weiss would become one of the well-known brands in Australian fashion.
At this time, Weiss also began to focus on the arts, which would become a lasting passion. He became a significant supporter of the Australian Chamber Orchestra, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, the Art Gallery of New South Wales, and the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. He also supported the Australian Youth Orchestra by providing two annual scholarships and is a Founding Patron of the Australian World Orchestra. In 2015, he purchased the former home of the late composer Peter Sculthorpe with the aim of hosting small concerts and visiting artists. In 2007, Weiss purchased a 1729 Giuseppe Guarneri cello valued at $1.8 million, which he gave to the Australian Chamber Orchestra.
“Music and art were two deep passions for the renowned businessman, philanthropist, and former Board Member of the ACO. Peter’s extraordinary generosity took many forms: time, advice, provocation, investment in musical instruments and excellence but above all, unfailing friendship and a big, warm, generous and feisty spirit,” the ACO said in a statement.
Weiss also committed to a $1 million gift to the Sydney Opera House over four years in 2018, the most significant cash donation the venue has received. He also donated a further $1 million to the AGNSW to fund the first sculpture that will greet visitors in the new sculpture garden of its Sydney Modern expansion.
Weiss was awarded an Order of Australia in 1995 for service to the arts, and he was made an Officer of the Order of Australia in 2013 for distinguished service to the arts, particularly orchestral music. He received an honorary degree from the University of Sydney in 2012.