The ringing of St. Michael’s bells held particular meaning this year.

“On the fourth Friday of every May, henceforth, when these historic church bells chime and this festival begins, we’ll be giving thanks to that most amazing and wonderful man, Ted Stern, who made all of this possible,” Mayor Joe Riley said as the 37th Spoleto Festival USA began.

Stern, who died at age 100 in January, was the first chairman of the Spoleto Festival and an early champion of what is now a world-renowned arts festival. This year’s festival is dedicated to Stern, board Chairman Carlos Evans said.

“It was nice to hear about Ted Stern because he’s been such an important member of our community,” said Bridget Hinson, a Charleston native who has attended Spoleto Festival events all her life. “The fact that we’re celebrating him this year is great.”

Friday’s ceremony opened with Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man,” performed by the Charleston Symphony Orchestra Brass Ensemble and conducted by Yuriy Bekker.

This year the festival also will pay tribute to Joseph Flummerfelt, the longtime choral director who recently announced his retirement.

“Even though I am retiring from an active artistic role in the festival, I expect to remain an enthusiastic member of the audience,” Flummerfelt said.

The opening ceremony also included an invocation by Rabbi Yossi Refson, of Chabad of Charleston and the Low Country, a performance of the national anthem by tenor Levi Hernandez, who is performing in the opera “Le Villi,” and a high-energy performance by the seven dancers of Compagnie Kafig.

“Every festival has a special character and feeling,” Riley said after the ceremony. “But I think celebrating Joe Flummerfelt and Ted Stern makes this year very special.”

Melanie Deziel is a Goldring Arts Journalist from Syracuse University.