Paul Desmond died on Monday. For more than 30 years, Desmond played saxophone with Dave Brubeck, first as one of the Brubeck Quartet and recently in concerts with Brubeck and various Brubeck sons. "I always considered him the most lyrical player in "jazz" was the way Dave Brubeck described Desmond's playing. One of the concrete proofs of that opinion exists on an extraordinary Columbia recording, CS8257.

You owe it to yourself to make that recording one of your special treasures. It is played by the New York Philharmonic under the direction of Leonard Bernstein, plus the Brubeck Quartet. On the side that carries "Dialogues for Jazz Combo and Orchestra," the third band features a Desmond solo, backed by the Philharmonic strings, that exixts on a plane occupied by no other lyrical jazz player. Dave Brubeck is right. Paul Desmond was in a class of greatness all his own.

Monday's American Symphony Orchestra League award to the National Symphony Orchestra and Antal Dorati for their services on behalf of contemporary music is one that will not be made during the coming season or any other year in which programs such as those that have been announced by the NSO are played. It is something the board of directors should remember as they deposit the check for $2,000 that goes with the prestige of being one of three major orchestras to merit such a prize.

It is also to be noted that the Copenhagen Prize of $17,500 for the best contemporary work played in Denmark in a season was just given to Olivier Messiaen for his "Transfiguration of Our Lord Jesus Christ." Dorati and the national Symphony gave this its U.S. premiere and subsequently recorded it with the composer present to supervise the entire affair.

The recording promptly won major awards in the recording world. There is no substitude for this kind of care for contemporary music.

Robert Shafer, one of Washington's top musicians, currently conductor of both the Oratorio Society and the Alexandria Choral Society, has just been named music director of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Shafer, who has a Master of Music degree from Catholic University, has spent several summers in study with Nadia Boulanger at Fontainebleau. Widely repected for his musicianship in many areas, Shafer will resign his present post as director of music for St. Matthew's Cathedral to take up his work at the Shrine.

In that position he succeeds Joseph Michaud, who was in charge of music there for 11 years.

Operas coming soon: Bizet's "The Pearl Fishers" will be given, fully staged, by the Washington Civic Opera in Lisner Auditorium today and Thursday at 8:30 p.m. Richard Weilermann will conduct a cast headed by Janet Pranschke, John Sandor, Alfred Anderson and Kenneth Bell.

There is no admission charge for Civic Opera productions but tickets are required. These are available from the D.C. Department of Recreation, Cultural Activites Division, 3149 16th St. NW. For complete ticket details call 673-7631.

"Of Mice and Men," one of the most successful operas by Carlisle Floyd, is coming to the Kennedy Center Opera House for a three-week run, from June 21 to July 10. From the time of its world premiere in Seattle in 1970 the opera has been highly praised. The Kennedy Center performances will be by the Houston Spring Opera which has previously brought in "Treemonisha" and "El Captain."

The Floyd opera, based on John Steinbeck's famous novel, will be given nightly, Tuesday through Saturday, with matinees Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are on saleat the Center.