Patrick Hayes presented his last concert as the popular managing director of the Washington Performing Arts Society Saturday night after a stellar, 40-year career as an impresario. You would have thought he'd have been a little sad.

"I feel great! Wonderful! Gratified!" effused the 72-year-old Hayes. "And please, my new position is emeritus, and later, consultant. I am not retiring."

The Lawyers Committee, WPAS' relatively new fund-raising arm, dedicated its annual black-tie membership dinner and Kennedy Center concert to Hayes and the new managing director, Douglas Wheeler. Hayes, who played the violin in his younger years, said he was touched to have Itzhak Perlman perform on his last night as managing director. "I entered my career to the sounds of violin and leave the same way," he said.

Guests thought Perlman's performance was brilliant, as evidenced by three encore ovations for his two-hour concert. He was also funny at the champagne reception in the center's Israeli room following his performance.

"I didn't know this was going to be so formal," he joked as the hundred or so guests gaped silently at him upon his arrival. "I thought we'd be milling around." That stopped the gaping and started the milling.

"If I drink champagne I'll get drunk. How about some ginger ale?" pleaded the famed violinist.

Perlman, who has performed in Washington three times this year, said he will be back in a few weeks to testify before Congress on projected budget cuts in the arts.

"At this point, it's not to get more money, but just to stop them from cutting the funding any further. The two major program cuts they are making both affect me--arts and rehabilitation for the disabled," said Perlman, a polio victim. "They are cutting good programs left and right, and people not in the know really can't see how bad it is all over the country."

The evening began formally at an early cocktail reception in the Kennedy Center Atrium, followed by a dinner of salmon, roast beef, hearts of palm and fancy pastry. Everyone shook hands and kissed like family. The recurring question, "Are you a lawyer, too?" (the majority were) seemed to be the focal point of conversation.

The 65-member Lawyers Committee was formed last year by Washington attorney Sherman Katz, who projected that the group's contribution to WPAS this year would exceed $30,000.

Hayes, who founded WPAS 15 years ago, was never for a moment regretful during the festivities. He leaves for Europe today for a four-month sabbatical to write a book about his career here. "The biggest challenge I had to overcome were the racial barriers that I found here in 1941," he reflected. "There was total black and white segregation of artists."

Following dinner, everyone was allowed to haggle over the table centerpieces, elegant potted plants in wicker baskets. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens and his wife, Maryan, made off with the plant on their table.

"Well, they told us we could take it," said the justice, sheepishly leaving the Atrium with his large basket.

"If someone is going to give me something, I sure am going to take it," said his wife.

"She's a flower nut," said Stevens.

"A plant nut," his wife corrected.

And off they went into the Concert Hall, carrying their flowery prize. You couldn't miss them.